This weekend in our Gospel we are presented with the rich, familiar, agricultural image of the vine and the branches. Immediately for me I picture nice, neat rows of vines, gently sloping trellised slopes, and branches weighed down with plump, healthy, juicy grapes. Chardonnay country at its best! In the Gospel story we are, of course, the branches, and Jesus is the vine. All connected, all productive all very neat and cozy!
What throws a spanner into the works is that small matter of being pruned! To prune a plant is to cut branches of it off. Ouch. It seems a very violent activity. If you listen carefully to the Gospel you will hear Jesus mention the act of pruning twice. What’s more, if we are pruned we will be thrown out to wither.
From our church here on the Caloundra coastline or in our hinterland communities, our nervous hesitation to being pruned is natural enough. In reality, however, the actions of a good vinedresser are anything but violent or random. A good vinedresser tenderly pores over each branch and delicately cuts only the smallest amount so that the vine will be healthier and more productive. From experience the vinedresser knows that to cut too much or too little will deprive the vine of its distinctive character. Every cut is measured so as to bring about greater growth for the whole vine and a bigger yield for the vineyard.
The first hearers of this story would have instantly picked up on this metaphor and would have understood the practical daily implications the story had for them as they struggled to live out their Christian life. Being on the vine of Christ’s love is ultimately what counts. If the fruit we produce is bitter and poisonous; if we are unforgiving and unjust; if, in our homes, schools, workplaces and in our relationships we are divisive and our actions and attitudes cause pain then we are definitely in need of the gentle hand of the vinedresser who only wants to bring forth the yield he knows we are capable of achieving.
The whole point of this weekend’s Gospel is that we will be judged by the practical acts of love and faith that permeate the daily encounters of our lives. Looking holy or claiming to be Christian misses the point. As Billy Graham once said, “Being a member of the church makes you no more a Christian than living in a garage makes you a car.” It is in our actions that we bear fruit. It’s in having the courage this week to trust God enough to risk change, to forgive, to let go, that the story of the vine and the branches comes alive and we bring forth the yield that God knows we are capable of achieving.
Wishing you every blessing for the week ahead.