John’s gospel is full of wonderful metaphors. We have Jesus as the bread of life, the good shepherd, the light, the gate, the way, the life and the vine.
They are all powerful and important images that tell us so much about who God is and the relationship we might have with Him.
Last night I was reading about the vine – which we find in John chapter 15. The chapter starts with Jesus saying, ‘I am the true vine and my Father is the vine-grower…’ Jesus is speaking to his disciples the night before his death and He wants to use this powerful image to explain the relationship with God that is on offer to His disciples.
The image of the vine is a far cry from images that Moses might have used to describe God in the Old Testament. Where God was seen as holy and untouchable – an all-consuming fire.
Jesus does not seek to diminish our understanding of the holiness of God. Even in this chapter He talks about the vine-grower cutting off branches of the vine and throwing them into the fire. But Jesus is showing his disciples that, not only can they touch God but they can also be directly connected to Him. They can be an integral living entity with God.
In the passage, Jesus says think of me as the main stem of the vine and think of yourselves as the branches. The branches can’t exist without the stem – as the stem provides nourishment and the water of life. And also provides structure and direction.
Does the stem need the branches?
But what about the stem – does the stem really need the branches?
This is a question I had not really thought that much about. But reading the passage again last night, I noticed for the first time that the fruit of the vine grows on the branches not on the stem. The stem needs the branches to bear fruit. And the leaves, of course, through photosynthesis provide energy and nourishment to the stem and the whole plant. The stem is really nothing and has no future without the branches.
I think Jesus, in using the vine metaphor, wants us to understand this too.
Yes, we are dependent on Him. And, without Jesus, our lives wither and dry up. But He too is dependent on us.
Jesus needs us, the branches, to go out into the world spreading His love and bearing fruit – making a difference.
This is the way that God has chosen to make His Kingdom come – to make the world a place of peace and justice - through us.
What this means for us
So try to keep this image in mind today.
Know yourself rooted in the beautiful, life-giving, flourishing vine. And know that your branch has its role to play. Your branch is important. Jesus needs you. He needs you to bear fruit today. To give love to someone you know or meet and for that love to blossom and bring new growth.
As the French theologian, Jean Vanier, says, ‘The fruit of the vine is the life we are called to give to others. But it is not just we who give life, nor is it just Jesus, it is we and Jesus, Jesus is in us and us in Jesus.’
The metaphor of the vine is wonderful because it shows a God who loves us so much that He is not only willing to include us in His life – He is willing to make us integral to His life. He is willing to make Himself vulnerable to the point of depending on us as we depend on Him.
It’s a beautiful and inspiring image. It’s a challenging and breathtaking opportunity. To be a part of the vine. To receive love from God and others. And to give love to God and others too. In an amazing and never-ending cycle.