We’ve recently spent time with Jesus as the “Bread of Life”. In maintaining that Eucharistic theme, He’s now relating himself to the other part of that last supper – the vine that produce fruit for making wine.
This image of God being the vinedresser, Jesus being the vine and each of us being the branches provides a great reflection and learning around the challenges and calling for each of us. Let’s start with a read through the passage (John 15:1-8).
Jesus said to his disciples:‘I am the true vine,and my Father is the vinedresser.Every branch in me that bears no fruithe cuts away,and every branch that does bear fruithe prunes to make it bear even more.You are pruned already,by means of the word that I have spoken to you.Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,but must remain part of the vine,neither can you unless you remain in me.I am the vine,you are the branches.Whoever remains in me, with me in him,bears fruit in plenty;for cut off from me you can do nothing.Anyone who does not remain in meis like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,and they are burnt.If you remain in meand my words remain in you,you may ask what you willand you shall get it.It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,and then you will be my disciples.’
We were made to be fruitful
This illustration makes it clear – we have a purpose. That purpose is to bear fruit. Those of us that don’t bear fruit are cut away, and those of us that do are tended to so that we can produce even more fruit.
Just as real fruit that grows from vines and trees provides nourishment to those who eat them, the fruit we’re called to produce – our good works – provides love and nourishment for our friends, families and communities. We were created with the purpose of providing these fruits and God, as our vinedresser, works within us to bring that to even greater abundance. The more of us that answer this call, fulfil this purpose, the more that His love is felt in our world.
We must be aware of our source
No branch can produce the fruit it was designed to without its’ connection to the vine. It needs a source, it needs nourishment from that vine to continue producing fruit. In reframing the fruit as our good works – good that we bring to the world – this is especially true. We can’t get very far when we try to do this all by ourselves, not tied to any source. The more we try, the more depleted we get and quickly realise we need something to refill us.
That refilling process, when connected to worldliness, only starts to produce less fruit, and depending on our influences – bad fruit. We bear fruit that others around us aren’t interested in, don’t benefit from and very little good comes from this. A vicious cycle has begun and it’s easy to understand why God would want to cut this “branch” away.
Grow where you are planted
When our refilling happens through a connection to our source, our maker, our God – we produce the very fruit that He designed us to produce, and exactly the nourishment those around us need. After all, it’s why He made us the way He did and why He put us where He did.
There’s a great story about the CEO of Celestial Seasonings wanting to move to Calcutta. Unfulfilled by the riches of his business, he wanted to provide greater good for the world. Inspired by Mother Teresa, he decided to drop it all and go help her and her sisters in the good they were producing. She forcefully (and lovingly) poked him in the chest and told him, “Grow where you are planted.”
We may never understand why we are the way we are, or why we are where we are. The reasons or intentions may be elusive. That shouldn’t stop us from producing the fruit we prayerfully believe God wants us to bear, and give to those He’s placed us near. We must be mindful that we’re always maintaining that connection to our source through prayer and reflection.
Bearing even more fruit
It wasn’t until I moved to London did the idea of “pruning” really mean something. We have big beautiful green trees called plane trees – and every year or two they get cut way back. Here’s a photo of what used to be a very lush green street – and is now just a bunch of naked trees.
The act of pruning can be painful – what we considered beautiful, even good, has been removed. Our instinct is to view this as a bad thing and try to fight it. God often needs to take away good things from us in order to prepare us to provide even greater ones later.
When you look at what’s left of a tree after being fully pruned, the only word you can think of is “naked”. This is who we become when God has stripped us of all our attachments. When all of the things we identify with are removed, all that’s left is a very small and naked “self”. This is the self that God loves and wants to build back up.
However difficult, however uncomfortable, however scary of a process this might be – we should look at His attention and diligence in “dressing” us with gratitude, knowing that He’s going to turn us into something beautiful and with the ability to bring much more good to those around us.
Patience amidst the process
It’s clear from this story how important it is to let go of our attachments – all of the things we try to cover our “self” with that God so eagerly strips away. What’s not so clear is the letting go of this process itself and where it may lead. Anyone who has seen a pruned-tree lined street like the one above knows that it takes a lot of patience before they grow into more beautiful and lush trees.
Before the beauty sets in, the trees must endure winter as cold and naked trees. When we realise we’re being pruned, we must remain patient and let go of trying to understand or control the process – we must remember that God has a plan and whatever will be, will be. If it takes weeks, months, or years before we start to see the fruit being produced, so be it. Our job is to remain, as we are – as He’s made us, and stay connected to our source.
Before we know it, we’re bringing precisely the very fruit He designed us to produce to the very people He placed us with.