Read: Isaiah 5:1-2, John 15:1-11
Vineyards are a big part of the culture in the Bible. In fact, a common imagery portrays Israel as God’s vineyard and God as the farmer (Isaiah 5:7; see also Psalm 80:1-19). The fruit of the vine as symbol is also true for areas of the world today. The crest of my town of origin has both the vine and Saint Peter’s keys as symbols, attesting to the central place viticulture holds in the town’s identity.
The New Testament also attests to the enduring image of God’s people as a vineyard. But now, everything becomes focused on Jesus. “I am the true vine” says Jesus in the seventh and last ‘great I am sayings’ in John (John 15:1). The fruitlessness of Israel (Isaiah 5:1-2) has now become the fruitfulness of Jesus. As an Israelite Himself, Jesus fulfills and completes the role that Israel as the people of God could not fulfill. Not wonder, then, that Jesus says to His disciples that it’s only when they are rooted in Him that they will bear fruit in abundance (John 15:4-5). To be rooted in Jesus means we abide in Him; we dwell with Him; we are in His presence.
Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is a rich devotional that invites the reader to dwell in Jesus, from “apart from Him we can do nothing.” But the imagery of Jesus as the fruitful vine and His followers as the branches also invites us into an other, more painful, reality: Jesus pruning. For us to bear much fruit, we need to be pruned (John 15:2-8). The harsh fact is pruning takes places in the winter, when the plant looks dead. So in the dark and cold times when everything also appears fruitless, the pruning knife is applied to the vine so that it seems even less hopeful that any fruit will ever come as a result.
It reminds me of this quote about the light at the end of the tunnel that is being turned off. While we are in the dark and already on the low end of the hope factor, we are being (seemingly mercilessly) trimmed down! But, as a friend recently reminded me, it is the vine that already bears fruit that feels the pain of the pruning, not a dead organism. When we buy ‘tomatoes on the vine’ at the grocery stores, they are not really on the vine, but cut off, and therefore already dead (see John 15:6). In contrast, the pruning is applied to living vines that bear fruit, so that more fruit can be produced.
In the famous parable of the sower (Mark 4), we want to be the good soil that yields fruit in the hundredfold category (Mark 4:20). We don’t realize or particularly like that in order for us to bear more fruit, we need to be pruned. This is the true cost of discipleship Jesus talks about in John 15!
Reflection for the week:
Do you know what time it is?
We know that “growth comes from God” (1 Corinthians 3:6); we know that the seed of the Word of God needs good soil and those who “accept it” end up producing fruit. But do we know that in order to bear maximum fruit, we will need to be pruned? So what does pruning look like? Maybe it’s areas of our lives that have borne quite a bit of fruit already, yet these very areas of growth seem dormant, or even regressing right now.
The Lord does His pruning of His vineyard in many ways. It may be in our individual lives, the life of our church family or institution. Do we know what season we are going through? Take time this week to do a survey of your ‘vineyard.’
The good news is that this time of dormancy and painful ‘cuts’ will turn into great fruit in the future. The challenge of faith is to wait, just like the ‘sleepy farmer’ who “knows not how” the seed grows (Mark 4:26-29). We take solace in the fact that times of pruning are followed by times of great fruitfulness and “harvest” (Mark 4:29).