“I am the vine, you are the branches…” So runs the familiar allegory of Jesus which we find in our gospel this weekend. Grape vines are pruned to keep them at a manageable size, to direct the energy of the vine into producing fruit instead of stems and leaves, and to keep the fruit growing close to the main stem so the sap doesn’t have to travel far to produce fruit. Pruning lets in sunshine, essential for the grapes to fully ripen since unlike most other types of fruit, grapes do not continue to ripen after being picked. Pruning is a real art both in knowing when to prune and how to do so most effectively to maximize productivity.
This extended metaphor of Jesus in our gospel passage has four allegorical components: the vine grower (the Father), the vine (Jesus), the branch (the disciple), and the fruit (commandment observance). In the vine and the branches, the relationship between Jesus and the believer is expressed in terms even more intimate and personal than in the image of the shepherd and his sheep, which we heard about in last Sunday’s gospel. It is the language of the indwelling, “the remaining, or abiding, together” in friendship, that here comes to the fore in characterizing the bond between Jesus and his followers. It is this “abiding” of the believer in Jesus that is productive of good. Failure to produce fruit results in a severance of the branch, i.e. an end time separation from Christ by the intervention of the Father through pruning; on the other hand, the true believers are strengthened. Just as the Father is glorified by the obedient death of his Son, so also does the virtuous life of the disciple give glory to God.
People in Jesus’ time would have easily grasped the images of abiding, remaining connected to Jesus the vine, allowing God to trim away whatever in our lives does not produce, and the importance of being fruitful for God. Are you willing to allow God to do the necessary pruning in your life so as to allow you to bear more fruit to the glory of God?