Sunday, 6 April 2014
Lent day 31 - to be Christian is to be de-vine
Ok, so that is a terrible pun (just ask anyone, it's not unusual for me). I don't have the greenest of thumbs, but I do know that if you cut something off a plant, chance are it will die. Flowers wilt and die, fruit rots. A branch draws sustenance from the plants, down to its roots.
Agricultural illustrations were Jesus' stock in trade; he lived in an agricultural society. None of this is rocket science. It makes sense, but to go beyond the illustration to the heart of the matter takes a lifetime. The goal of a grape vine is for it to produce fruit - from a human point of view to make wine (safer than water in Jesus' day). Fruit is a sign of health in a plant.
Jesus is the vine, providing nourishment, showing that the branches are organically connected (John 15:1-11). Without connection to the vine, nothing can be done (he speaks in spiritual terms, people do all sorts of things, just not fruit borne for God). Anyone hanging around the vine but not connected to it won't bear fruit, and is cast into the fire.
So how does this relate to us? Do we spend all of our time worrying whether or not we are bearing enough fruit, and whether or not we will be cast off? Or do we argue that we are part of the vine and were always meant to be? A classical theological debate!
It seems to me that the parable is simple - those who bear no fruit will be cast into the fire because they have no connection to the vine, those who are connected will invariably bear fruit. If you see any fruit in your life, then be encouraged you are connected to the vine. If you see fruit in others, they too are part of the same vine - even if they hold some very different ideas to you.
Likewise, if there is no fruit in your life at all (and why would you be reading this if there was not), you have to ask yourself some hard questions. I suspect this is more about asking them of yourself than of anyone else.
Finally - what does being in the vine look like, i.e. how does it happen? It is all about being a disciple (verse 8). This implies careful study of Jesus teaching, and even more so careful following of his commandments and his way of life. It is no accident that another day's reading - Jesus teaching on the new commandment to love each other - follows on from this.