I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers … As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
– John 15:5-8 NRSV
I’m a terrible gardener. In my house, there’s a general absence of house plants. It’s not that I don’t try, but I just seem to have a brown thumb. I either overwater the plants or underwater them, give them too much light or too little.
I guess it’s a good thing I’m not the Divine Gardener.
Lessons from the Vineyard
In this passage from the gospel of John, Jesus gives his disciples at least three lessons from the vineyard — practical advice about how to live as productive, faithful Christians.
1. There are no lone vines in Christian community.
In Hebrew scripture, Israel is often referred to as the “vine.” But in John, Jesus is the “true vine,” God is the Gardener and we are the branches that should bear fruit. The relationship and interdependence between God, Jesus and Christian disciples is established.
One of the most important lessons from the vineyard is that there can be no free-standing individuals in this community of believers. A branch can’t live or bear fruit without the life-flow that comes from Christ — the vine — in a community of other branches. As disciples of Christ we give up our individualism to become part of a whole and healthy plant. And we don’t get to decide which other branches are connected to the vine. That’s the work of the Divine Gardener.
Connection to Christ — in community — is a necessary part of the normal Christian life. We abide in Christ and he abides in us.
2. God’s care of the community requires pruning.
The Divine Gardener needs to cut away the things that hinder our growth and the health of the community. God prunes the parts that prevent us from bearing good fruit. Things like anger, selfishness, pride, envy, gossip, greed and complaining.
The list could go on. But the important thing is these unhealthy leaves need to be cut away for our own sake and for the sake of the whole plant — the community. They drain our life and divert our energy. With these diseased parts cut away, we are prepared to become healthy and productive branches that “bear good fruit.”
Tempted to look around and compare your fruit with another branch? Don’t be. It’s not up to you to determine which branches are bearing fruit and which aren’t. Again, that’s the work of the Divine Gardener.
3. We should “bear good fruit.”
What does Jesus mean when he talks about “good fruit” in his lessons from the vineyard?
In Hebrew Scriptures, the imagery of bearing fruit typically refers to the community’s faithfulness. For instance in Psalm 1 it speaks of the faithful who keep God’s commandments. They are described as “trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.”
However, in the context of John “bearing fruit” is not only about faithfulness to the commandments. It also expresses doing works of love. Love is the mark of Christ’s disciples.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
Above all else, the lessons from the vineyard are about remaining faithful to the life of discipleship. Abide in the vine of Christ, loving one another, and bearing much fruit.