A vineyard is a stunning sight! Rows upon rows of grapevines wrapped around a lattice apparatus to form beautiful and complex combinations of fruit, which will one day be pressed. Each set of vines carefully tended by the gardener to ensure maximum flavor and texture to each grape. The gardener will spend time making sure each vine is pruned, watered and getting adequate sunlight to ensure a favorable yield from the crop.
A few short months ago, Sonoma and Napa Valley were hit by a raging wild fire which destroyed significant portions of the two counties vineyards. The fire left destruction and significant financial loss to the areas of California. The once beautiful countryside was left marred by a black, charred stain on the earth. Yet, through the great loss and impact to people’s primary source of income something new was being planted, a newness from the ashes.
As faith believers we are familiar with agricultural metaphors being used by Jesus throughout his teaching ministry and work with the disciples. In John 15, the use of a vineyard, Jesus being the true vine, and God the gardener should not be shocking to the reader, however, the personal application may be more difficult to comprehend. John is bearing witness to one of the most powerful descriptions of eternal life spoken to the disciples by Jesus. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus has focused on an invitation to come and receive life and to believe in him. In chapter 15 he now focuses on those who have already come to know him and is calling them to remain in him.
In verse 1, Jesus is calling all people, Jews and non-Jews, to identify no longer as separate people groups, rather one people no longer being see by territories, but as fellow believers unified by Christ. The verse continues with Jesus’ dependency on the Father as the gardener of the grapevine. Believers, the branches, are intimately connected to Christ, the true grapevine, and the Father, the gardener, who prunes the necessary parts of the vines to produce even greater fruit.
The message, through Christ, received by each believer has already purified them and pruned them but the new growth, whether good or bad continues to grow. As believers continue to abide in the true vine, there is a growing of Christian qualities, a continual likeness of the Father, which will be the fruit of the lives they live. The preoccupations of the old self which inhibit a fuller relationship with God will be pruned to allow a further growth of good fruit. Pruning can leave a plant bruised and seemingly broken but an expert gardener knows the necessary amount of pruning to help the vine thrive.
The gardener never cuts off the entire branch rather just enough for the branch to produce greater fruit, for if the branch was the be cut off entirely bearing fruit would not be an option. Each new believer is drawn even further into the fold of the community by abiding in Christ receiving the sustaining power of being connected to the giver of life. The message of Christ is now to be a lived out experience by each new believer, especially as he was sharing with the disciples to go out and produce fruit.
People can often be resistant to the pruning of their lives due to the vulnerable nature of being exposed, just as a branch once pruned leaves has a physical mark left behind. The people of Sonoma and Napa county could see the physical mark left behind by the fire but what was less tangible was the manifestation of fruit. On the radio, in the news and through online publications people talked about communities coming together to love, support, rescue, clean-up and provide for each other despite what happened with the fires. Neighbors who had barely spoken with each other were now helping each other out in very tangible expressions of the grace and care. The fire may have happened to them but what they did in the aftermath was up to them.
The fruit of each of our lives comes after the more painful process of being pruned so we can be a greater reflection of the Father’s love in a world full of brokenness. May we continue to be fruit bears of the message of Christ’s love for a world broken and bruised.