I have never tried to grow grapes. When we purchased our small farm property in 2007, there was about an acre of mature grape vines. My first impulse was to harvest grapes and make my own wine. After reading some manuals on wine-making, I decided that was much too complicated. Too much trial and error. The next Spring the grape vines were removed.
Grapes receive a lot of attention in the geography of Biblical times. Everyone who owned property grew grapes. The Old Testament is full of grapevine images: Israel is the vine or vineyard of God. Over the door of the great Temple was a gold leaf grapevine.
Thus, everyone who heard Jesus speak about grapes or vines or branches knew the imagery. Familiar sites and pictures flashed through their minds.
However, few of them expected Jesus to say “I am the vine.” He even boldly said, “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1) And we are the branches.
He then went on to speak of how healthy grapevine branches need careful pruning. Did he mean we are to”live more simply?” Perhaps. Did he mean, “There is more energy for good fruit with less abundance?” Perhaps. Did he mean, “A more fruitful life means cutting back?” Perhaps. Did he mean, “When you get rid of what drains you, it will foster growth?” Yes, that too, perhaps.
But the most fascinating part of this teaching to me is when he said, “Abide in me.” This invitation has an almost mystical theme. I sometimes get stuck there. I am far from a mystic; I am too practical, too pragmatic. I am more likely to confess, “I love you Lord, but I don’t’ feel your presence.” Yet here is his great invitation: abide in him and he will abide in us. And the powerful challenge: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (15:5) The implications are clear: leadership is weak and often puny without the abiding Presence of the One who is the true vine.
Jesus says, “True happiness means abiding in me.” Abiding makes you truly alive. Abiding yields fruit. Much fruit! Kingdom fruit!
What a great theme for the Lenten season which begins tomorrow. Decide to abide! Begin by doing some careful pruning. Then build the relationship. And know the fruit that abounds in those decisions!