Meditation on John 15:1-8
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Pastor Karen Crawford
May 2, 2021
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 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. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.“
We are back from our long journey, traveling to Minnesota by car, making frequent stops along the way to visit friends and family. The weather wasn’t much different than it was here. Except I heard it snowed in Ohio! It didn’t snow in Minnesota. We had a kind of heavy frost one morning. That’s about it.
We arrived home Sunday night. On Monday, I went out to mow the lawn, and first we had to pick up branches. We must have had quite a windstorm while we were away, along with the snow!
What was most noticeable was the damage to the lilacs. Large branches had come down and others had broken off and lodged themselves on other branches.
It was hard to tell if some were dead before they were broken off in the wind—or if they died after they were broken off. There was nothing left to do with them but drag them out to the trash.
I have pruned the lilacs the last two years. But they really should have been cut back years ago, before they became unmanageable, long and leggy, with leaves mostly on top; branches competing for sunlight and crowding each other out. There’s even a maple tree growing in the middle of one of the lilacs and it’s large enough to need a chainsaw to cut it down.
I saw only about a dozen flowers on the whole group of 4 or 5 large lilacs.
My neighbor says she remembers the lilacs years ago—covered with beautiful blooms and the air filled with the sweet lilac scent.
Still, when I see those scraggly purple flowers, I have hope. Someday, someday, if I keep on pruning the old and encouraging new growth, the lilacs may once again bloom gloriously.
Our Lord is giving us a window, in John 15, into the culture and horticulture of his time when he uses the metaphor of God the vinedresser, Jesus the vine and his followers the branches. “Jesus is explaining how the grapevine, branches, and the actions of the vinedresser describe the relationship of the community to the Father” and the Son (Deirdre Good).
This isn’t the first time we have run into Jesus teaching through the example of a vineyard. In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Luke 20:9-18, Jesus reveals the grace of God through a noble vineyard owner who is in a position of power, but chooses not to take vengeance. Rather “he puts his anger far away, opting for total vulnerability in the face of violence…Patience, long suffering, risk-taking, compassion and self-emptying together describe the vineyard owner” (Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through. Middle Eastern Eyes).
Vine metaphors in the Hebrew Scriptures convey God’s love and care for Israel, but also God’s judgment, as in Isaiah 5:1-7, for Israel’s failure to produce fruit.
“No plant is mentioned more times in the Bible than the grape and its products, chiefly wine but also raisins and vinegar. The grape vine is grown solely for its fruit; there is no other use for the vine in the Scriptures. Even the wood of the vine is worthless (Ezekiel 15)” (Bible Plants Site, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA).
Scriptures emphasize several features of the grape plant that help us understand its use in Bible imagery.
“The character of the grapevine is to spread and climb. For example, Joseph was likened to a fruitful vine (Genesis 49:22). The image is used in a negative sense of Israel (Hosea 10:1). In Bible days, grapes were usually not grown on trellises as they are today. Rather, a large rootstock was allowed to develop and from this the branches would spread across the ground. Many vineyards of this type are still found near Hebron… (Numbers 13:23)” (Bible Plants Site, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA).
Pruning is essential if the vine is to produce grapes. When Jesus talks about this in John 15:2, his disciples already know this! They aren’t surprised that the vinedresser prunes. They probably have seen it and may have done it themselves. Even branches that have borne good fruit are carefully pruned. Why? So they will bear more fruit!! What they haven’t thought about is that God is the vinedresser that prunes us—not to punish us, but to transform us so that we can become our best selves. He wants to make us into a new creation that he can use—so that the world will come to know Him and BE MADE NEW.
What you need to know is what we miss in the English translation. The Greek word in verse 2 for prune and cleanse comes from the same root! They are essentially the same word, translated two different ways. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, “He wants us to link the pruning of the vine with the clean state of the disciples. They have already been pruned, though no doubt there is more of it to come. Jesus has spoken the word to them, calling them to take up their cross and follow him. They have had to submit to the pruner’s knife, cutting away other goals and ambitions.” When Wright says this, I am picturing Peter, Andrew, James and John dropping their nets—letting go of who they used to be and how they used to spend their days and nights trying to earn a living for their families through fishing. Everything changes when Christ says, “Come follow me.”
Are you wondering what Jesus means by bearing fruit? When the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the spirit in Galatians, he means: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
But Jesus is emphasizing in this passage: love! Growing in love—perfect love that casts out all fear and follows Christ till the end. Love that comes from God, who is love and is revealed by the humble, self-giving Son. This passage in John 15 is about love that connects Christ’s followers with God through Him. It’s about love that is shared with the world so that all may come to know him.
We know this from the context, as this chapter follows the passage where Jesus tells his disciples,“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). In John 13, he has given them a new commandment, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Did you lose count how many times Jesus uses the word translated “abide”? About 10 times in chapter 15! The verb form of abide is one that we don’t have in English. It is aorist, which is a kind of simple past tense, without saying the duration of the activity. Our abiding in Christ has already happened! But it’s still going on. It is past, present, and future.
What does Christ mean–to abide in his love?
N.T. Wright explains, “Jesus is speaking “of the intimate relationship with him that (his disciples) are to cultivate. Branches that decide to ‘go it alone,’ to try living without the life of the vine, soon discover their mistake. They wither and die, and are good for nothing but the fire. But branches that remain in the vine, and submit to the pruner’s knife when necessary, live and bear fruit. That is the prospect that Jesus holds out to his followers—to all of us.”
Cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ requires two things. One: we must remain in the community that knows and loves him and celebrates him as Lord. “There is no such thing as a solitary Christian,” Wright says. “We can’t ‘go it alone.”
The other thing is that our Christian faith can’t just be a Sunday morning activity. “We must live as a people of prayer and worship in our private lives” and be willing to be pruned by the vinedresser, even when it hurts.
What is God cutting away in you and your life to help you to grow in new ways and become the person God has planned for you to be?
“You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus says in John 15:16. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
And here is the promise, the blessing of when we abide or remain in Christ’s love.
Jesus says in 15:11, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
After I returned from our road trip to Minnesota, I couldn’t wait to see my garden. Some of my flowers were blooming.
But most are just beginning to pop through the soil, putting forth shoots and leaves. I was so excited, I took pictures of lilies, bell flowers, clematis, and lemon balm, dreaming of what they will be, given time and favorable growing conditions, including my work as a gardener—watering, weeding, mulching, and yes, pruning.
Salvia, Black eyed Susans, Echinacea, Shasta Daisies…
That’s when it dawned on me. That’s how the Lord sees us! God looks with the eyes of eternity and sees us bearing fruit, already! He sees us in full bloom!
The Lord rejoices at every bit of growth we make as the beloved branches connected to the true vine–following Jesus, becoming more like Him, growing in love and sharing God’s love with the world.
He chooses to forgive us and remember our sins no more. God sees us as made righteous now, through God’s work in Jesus Christ! But we can’t see what we are now—God’s Redeemed. And we can’t see what we will be, when the work of the Spirit is finished in us at the day of Jesus Christ. We can only trust the Vine, who wants to give us his joy and make our joy complete!
Our Heavenly Gardener calls to us now—from the past, present and future. “Abide in me.”
Let us pray,
Heavenly Gardener, thank you for your love for us, spoken in your Word, through your Son, Jesus Christ. He is our True Vine and we are his branches. We have been made one with you and one another through his suffering work on a cross. Thank you for the hope we have in our Risen Christ—that we are new creatures. Today! That we have been chosen by you and appointed to bear good fruit. Prune us, Lord, and make us the people you want us to be. Help us to be more loving and to abide in you, Lord, empowered to share your love with the world. Amen.