Jesus, the true vine
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Psalm 80:8-19
Devotional text: John 15:1
As we come to the sixth week of Lent, known as Holy Week, our attention is drawn to the many things Jesus explained to his disciples following the meal we know as The Last Supper.
Just before chapter 15 begins, Jesus is found saying to his disciples after supper, “Come now, let us leave.” It is believed that at this point, Jesus and his disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the time line of Holy Week, it is Maundy Thursday. During the meal, Jesus instituted the sacrament of communion. He taught his disciples about servant leadership as he washed the feet of Peter. Jesus also predicted Peter’s denial of him and promised to them the coming of the Holy Spirit.
As he led the disciples into the garden, he was to teach them more about their role of being his followers and what was to be expected of them. In 15:1, he began with, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
To understand the analogy of the grapevine, we need to know that even out of a single-rooted vine grows many branches that grow clusters of grapes. So, what Jesus is saying here is those who believed and followed him were attached to him, as the branches are attached to the one rooted vine. The Father God, the gardener, is the One from whom all things come as caretaker, protector and guide.
There is a Psalm, precisely Psalm 80, that speaks of the vine. Verse 8 reads, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.”
Although these words refer to the nation Israel, as we read further we see words, in verses 16 and 17, that can just as well refer to Jesus. Both verses have New Testament scripture corresponding to Jesus. Only Jesus the Messiah sits at the right hand of the Father God, and only Jesus died and was resurrected by the Father and brought into heaven.
In verses 2 and 3, Jesus refers to his Father God in the gardener analogy. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
Let’s break down these sentences to discover their meaning for us today. To begin with, the word “prune” can also be translated from the Greek as “clean.” The statement that God will prune the branches that bear good fruit so they will grow even more can be understood on two levels. First, Jesus tells his disciples (and us) that as believers we are already clean because we have accepted the words of Christ.
Another way of looking at this verse is to know that when fruit-bearing branches bear fruit, some are cut back so they will grow more fruit than they did at first.
In our biblical understanding, its meaning for followers of Jesus is that as we show God’s love for others and do good deeds, God will give us a time of deeper understanding followed by more opportunities to serve him in love and kindness toward others.
When Jesus spoke about cutting off branches that bear no fruit, he was referring to those who may read the word of God but do not follow it, meaning that if a person were to say he or she believed but then continued to live in the sinful nature the same way as before professing Jesus, then they are not clean.
We must be more than hearers or readers of the word only. The word of God needs to have meaning to our lives as it works to give us a new birth and make us loving people.
Jesus reminded his disciples, and us, to always live by the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Our neighbors are not only those who live next door to us, but everyone we meet and especially people who need help.
Jesus speaks to us today as he said the only way to bear good fruit is to remain in his teachings. As long as we seek to show God’s love and help one another, we are bringing forth good fruit. However, if we turn from his teaching, we then show the world actions that are contrary to God’s ways.
As these scriptures continue through John 15:9-17, we find Jesus reminding his disciples that as long as they remained followers of Christ, he would give them the ability to “bear much fruit.”
Looking at the analogy of Christ as vine and followers as branches, it is helpful to know that when branches grow no grapes, they are cut from the vine at their root to leave room for a new fruit-bearing branch to grow. This analogy refers to those who say they believe but in reality are only speaking words without true commitment. In other words, they are not true believers. These are the ones the gardener (Father God) separates from those who truly believe.
In today’s world of coronavirus pandemic, we unfortunately see some people at their worst. Perhaps it is panic or maybe plain selfishness, as we watch people take paper products from store shelves, leaving them bare, and others taking more food than they will eat in many months, leaving bread, egg and meat counters depleted. Even fights have broken out in stores when people begin stealing from another’s cart.
These are sad and sometimes just plain horrific scenes, as we witness people not showing love for their neighbor.
And then, thank God, there are the good stories, like the one about the helpful woman at a grocery store. There was an elderly man standing in the store with his empty cart, looking bewildered. Meanwhile, other shoppers pushed past him, not stopping to help. But, one woman did stop. As she talked to the man, who said he didn’t know what to do as shelves were empty and there were so many people, he was on the verge of tears.
This woman went shopping with the man, finding what he needed and even taking items from her own cart so he would have what he needed.
However, that wasn’t all she did. She went through checkout with him and, because he had no car but had arrived by cab, she took him home with his groceries in her car. Once at his house, she walked him in and brought in his groceries for him. This is a prime example of showing God’s love.