In Jesus’ time, everyone would have been very familiar with the metaphor used here. But the metaphor is so clear that we moderns cannot miss its meaning either.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7
Modern city dwellers buy their food at the grocery store and quite often have no clue where it came from, and most likely never think about it. But most have plants in their homes. Some may even have small “kitchen gardens” of one kind or another. In Jesus’ time, almost everybody was a farmer. The connections to the farm, to the ways of agriculture, were common to all. They would have been very familiar with the metaphor that Jesus uses here. But the metaphor is so clear that we moderns cannot miss its meaning either.
In the language of metaphor, Jesus compares himself here to the grape vine. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (verse 1) This is a powerful metaphor about life, about both the material life and the spiritual life, and their dependence upon being connected to the vine. When a branch on a grape vine, or a fruit tree, no longer bears any fruit it is “taken away.” In Jesus’ time, such branches would be cut off and dried on the wall of the vineyard to be used later for fuel. Metaphors always reveal deeper meanings. In this case, Jesus is saying that one who has been given life through the Spirit, but has turned away from it, is dead. This one can no longer bear fruit, for there can be no life apart from the vine. Such a “branch” cannot produce fruit, or life, on its own, therefore, it is cut away and thrown into the fire. This is not hard to understand. If we do not abide in Christ, he will not abide in us. We will, like the dead branch, be taken away and thrown on the fire. But if we do abide in Jesus, his abundant life will abide in us and we will be fruitful, thirty, sixty, a hundred fold.
There is something else in the metaphor too. If we follow the metaphor further we see that when we abide in Jesus and are producing good fruits of love and mercy, kindness and hospitality, the vinedresser will “prune us, that [we] may bear more fruit.” (verse 2) In this we are reminded that living the Christ life in this world is not easy. Because we are living in the midst of Vanity Fair, our fruitfulness may be misunderstood, ridiculed, even hated. This is the meaning of the metaphor of “pruning.” The vine, when pruned, suffers, but becomes stronger, more fruitful, as a result. Like Jesus, we will suffer, but if we abide faithfully in him, he will abide in us, and we will grow stronger with each pruning and be able to bear more of his holy fruit in the world. We cannot bear this holy fruit on our own. It is only through abiding in the life of Christ that we can be fruitful. His grace is the life within us. If we cling to him, if we abide faithfully in him, he will abide in us and we will become more alive, more fruitful than we can imagine.
Here, then, is his promise to those who abide in him. “If you abide in me, I will abide in you” and you can, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This is life abundant! This is life eternal! If, with faithfulness, we cling to this “vine,” this source of love, of mercy, of goodness, and compassion, all of our needs will be met—in the good times and in the bad. God will answer our prayers and make us even more fruitful because of our abiding love and faith in him.
Lord, give each of us the wisdom to cling to you with all of our heart, with all of our mind, and with all of our soul. Fill us with your grace that we might be ever more fruitful in our love for you and for our neighbor. Make us fruitful in mercy and forgiveness. Help us even to love our enemies enough to turn their hearts back to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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