It’s springtime. Wildflowers are finally blooming and trees have got new buds, even after our late blasts of cold weather. New growth and productivity are all around us. It’s the perfect time to talk about pruning back and cleaning things up for a new season. Jesus uses an example like this as he talks with the disciples about God as a gardener, himself as a vine and the disciples as branches that are expected to bear fruit.
Pruning grape vines or trimming a flowering bush would have been familiar to his followers.
Jesus tells them, “I am the true vine.” The word, that is translated as true, might more nearly be translated as real. “I am the real vine” may come closer to our understanding of what makes it possible to produce fruit. A real — authentic, true — vine produces real fruit. Sometimes we will have some wild grape vines that grow up through a part of our fence. It doesn’t matter if we prune away some of the fruit that starts to show, or whether we water and feed it. The fruit never develops. It’s not a real grape-bearing vine.
It’s interesting to me that fruit bearing also depends upon the work of the gardener who tends to the vines. If the vine is good, the potential is there for fruit. But the gardener works the soil around it, tends to it, waters it and keeps pests away. Pruning and cleaning the plants are necessary for it to ever produce. There may be times when it’s necessary to have distracting things pruned away or to be cleaned up so that the growth that is encouraged can become good fruit.
I know lots of gardeners who work really hard getting plants in the ground at the right time, weeding around them, trimming back unwanted growth, and then enjoying the pleasure of seeing fruit come to bear. It’s all a relationship working together of gardener, plants or vines, branches and stems, and developing fruit that comes in the right season.
“Abide in me as I abide in you,” Jesus tells his growing disciples.
Live in me as I live in you is another way of saying it. The fruit we’re expected to bear is in loving each other and loving God. Imagine doing that at a difficult time. Imagine finding the things in the way of loving someone being pruned away, no longer a problem in front of you. Imagine the happiness of God at seeing new fruit developing just like the happiness of a gardener seeing new tomatoes on the vine, squash or cucumbers just the right size, or grapes getting full and ripe.
It’s us whom God is working with, pruning away what would distract us, watering and feeding us just the right things, making sure we are growing on the real vine, and enjoying the fruit of peace, understanding, hope, and love.
Bearing fruit, after all, doesn’t create disciples, it reveals disciples. Abiding, living into, allowing ourselves to be pruned back in the right places may just reveal us to be those who bear the fruit of God’s love and kindness.
Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman, and they have three sons.