I am the vine, you are the branches… John 15:5
I fondly remember my summers of gardening when we lived in Minnesota. John 15:1-5 especially causes me to recollect the viney plants that would all but take over the entire garden with their broad, verdant leaves and abundant fruit—cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupe, etc. These were my favorites because they gave the whole garden the appearance of vitality as their spreading tendrils eagerly branched out to cover large areas of the garden plot. This is the mental image that I hold as I ponder the words of John 15.
My eyes also scan the verses of John 14 which set the stage for what Jesus is saying next. These words are difficult for the disciples as Jesus is instructing them of what they can expect following his imminent departure. It’s interesting how Jesus communicates that his absence from his followers will actually be a good thing; something they need not fear. And then he casts the metaphoric picture of the vine in John 15, an image that the Jewish people were very familiar with, except this time it calls for a slightly different understanding with altered implications. But it is imperative that Jesus’ followers, the Church, tap into this new vision of the vine in order for the Kingdom of God to expand.
Throughout the Old Testament, the vine was often used as a symbol of God’s covenant people, the Jews. Time and time again in passages such as Psalm 80:8-18, Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21 and several others, the Jewish people were chastised because they did not bear fruit as expected and were then cut off due to their disobedience. The old covenant embodied the picture of many vines growing in God’s vineyard but coming up barren. Jesus’ last “I am…” statement is a new concept then as he is showing his followers that no longer are they considered a vine simply because they are born into the Jewish “garden”. In fact, in this new paradigm, they are not even vines. Jesus, himself, is the vine and they are the branches that must stay connected to the True Vine in order to live vibrantly and produce fruit for the Kingdom.
In the fleeting moments of his time here on earth, Jesus showed his disciples that their fruitfulness is dependent on their connectedness to the vine. This is a new way of living in the world which resolves the age-old problem of the barren vine being cut off by the gardener. Jesus’ followers are assured that they do not need to strive to be a vine or to bear fruit on their own. This old order is completely futile. Instead if the Church is to engage in the task of Kingdom expansion, they are charged to do one thing—remain in Christ. And if they do this one thing, the promise is then that as spreading branches grafted into the True Vine, God’s people will produce life-giving fruit through the power of the Holy Spirit that will bring glory to the Father.