Last week we talked about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This week we hear Jesus say, “I am the Vine and You are the Branches.” Jesus also says, in the gospel of John, “I am the Bread of Life.” Sheep, bread, wine. All common elements of life for the people Jesus was talking to.
Being in Europe recently reminded me of the time when I was young (10 to be exact) and my Father took us to Malta on a ½ year sabbatical. One of the enduring memories of that time was that we couldn’t drink the water. There we would be, in the middle of August, stopped at a town square after a morning of seeing things. The square had trees, aahhhh shade. The square had little shops, aahhhhh bread and cheese and olives. And the square would invariably have this beautiful fountain with cool water spilling out of it. We could look, we could even touch, but we could not drink. We had to drink aqua fresca (seltzer water) or if Mom really was splurging, we got orange Fanta. Dad and Mom, if not drinking that ever present aqua fresca, would usually have wine.
Europe hasn’t changed that much. As Ann Marie and I took a trip on the Danube narrows just two weeks ago, we were given a “breakfast drink”—ahhh beer!
In Jesus’ day water would not have been a safe thirst quencher. There were no water purifiers, no treatment centers, no true knowledge of how to keep water potable in the first place. So people drank whatever was safe. Beer in Germany, Wine in Israel.
I think we sometimes forget what it would mean to the disciples to be told, every time you eat bread, every time you lift the cup, remember me. This wasn’t a sometime event, or a monthly event, or even a weekly event. It was every day, many times a day (if you were lucky). Every time you eat bread, every time you drink the cup, remember me.
Jesus being the vine meant he was an integral part of living, really, an essential part of life.
“I am the Vine and you are the branches.”
Here are my musings on being People of the Vine.
--Vines are living things. They have seasons, early budding, growth, flowering, producing fruit, withering, resting. We, as individuals and as people, also have seasons—each with its own special and beautiful character. I think it is human nature to want to stick with the status quo. It gets comfortable. But nature doesn’t allow us to hang on to one season for too long. We move onto what is next—we’ll cycle back, in a little while.
--Jesus could have said just “I am the Vine.” It would have been the equivalent of “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus would have been understood to be the source of quenching our thirst, of keeping our bodies hydrated, of bringing flavor and enjoyment to a meal. But Jesus didn’t talk just about being the vine. Jesus brought us into the picture. “I am the Vine and you are the branches.”
--Vine and branches are connected. This seems a silly point, but the more I thought about it, the more important it became.
--Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. So we are connected to Jesus. This connection isn’t casual, or haphazard, or on again/off again. The branches don’t exist without the vine. Is that true in our lives? Is our life, our fruit (what we produce), our mission from Jesus? Is our life blood connected to him (which doesn’t necessarily mean a certain building, or certain traditions, or even a certain name)? Vines have the roots sunk deep into the ground, drawing up the life blood of water and nutrients (food). We are the branches, connected to the vine, connected to Jesus.
--we are connected to each other. The Vine has many branches, and they all have the same source of nourishment and life. We may not all have the same experience—some branches may get a little more or less sun, some branches might be attacked by a pest, some branches might be especially good at producing fruit. But we branches are all connected to the same Vine, we are part of a greater whole.
--we are even connected to the branches who have leafed in years past and will sprout in years to come. If you know anything about taking care of vineyards, you may know that when you prepare for the next season, you prune back almost 90% of last year’s growth! Basically, you prune back to the core, to the heart of the vine. It will spread out its branches again. It will grow and flourish more because of the pruning.
This point was impressed in my brain as we cruised down the beautiful Wachau Valley, a place in Austria that has vineyards that have been cultivated for thousands of years. Every inch of available space has been terraced, and planted, and worked, harvested, for years upon years upon years. So our connection is not just to Jesus, not just to others on the vine, but to those who have been connected to him throughout the ages!
--Vines and branches need good support. You can’t just plant a vine and leave it be. It needs trellises and stakes and room to grow. It needs six to eight hours of sunshine (spread evenly over the vine). It needs good soil so the vine can sink its roots deep, even as much as five feet underground. It needs water, but not too much. The branches of vines need to be tended and watched over and eventually set free from their heavy fruit.
--Vines are intended to produce fruit. Maybe not in the first few years. But an unfruitful vine is not living up to its potential, and will probably be removed. On the other hand, the fruit of the vine is good. I know that the fermented fruit of the vine can be a problem for people. But vines and branches and their fruit are intended to be part of God’s good creation, to be enjoyed, to be used to provide things our bodies need, like grapes, and grape juice, and wine.
--We can’t forget that there is another character in Jesus’ vision. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, but God is the vinegrower. God is the one looking out for the vineyard, helping to tend the vines. And there is a word of caution, that if you become deadwood, if you don’t produce some fruit, you may be cut away from the vine and disposed of.
I take comfort in the fact that we are not expected to do all this supporting of our own branch (and other branches around us) all by ourselves. Not only are we connected to Jesus the true vine, but God is watching out for the whole vineyard, giving us drinks of water when the ground is dry, mixing in fertilizer when the soil is depleted, pruning us when we get a little too out of kilter, lavishing praise on us as God walks in God’s garden in the cool of the day.
It has been a long winter. Spring is budding all around us. May we feel the excitement that comes with the renewal of creation. May God the vineyard keeper walk up and down our paths, dreaming of what is to come. May Jesus the Vine send out tendrils of new growth, new life, new experience. May the Spirit, the wind and breath, the life energy of the cosmos, the flame of fruitfulness, spur us in the coming days and weeks and months and years.
For we are to work hard and produce fruit for God’s garden.
We are to treasure our connections to Jesus and one another and all the faithful: past, present and future.
We are to remember, always, that Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches…Abide in me as I abide in you.”
May it be so. Alleluia, Amen.