John 15:1-6. The Gardener, the Vine and the Branches

 15:1    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned

At the end of John 14 Jesus says to his disciples, “Come, let’s leave…”, presumably referring to their departure from the upper room in which they had been eating their last supper together. The small group is now walking towards the Mount of Olives, where they likely had been camping for Passover week. Perhaps they are walking through a vineyard on their way. Maybe they just walk past an unkempt grapevine in need of horticultural care.

Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”, as opposed to the degenerate vine that Israel has become (Jer 2:21; Isa 5:1-7). He is everything that Israel was supposed to be. His life of human obedience was what God intended for his chosen. He has been fruitful in response to his Father’s loving care for his vineyard.

The relationship between Jesus and his disciples in this parable— vine to branches— will become explicit in verse 5. And yet, it should already be obvious since the disciples have just heard of the Spirit’s coming whereby Jesus himself will make his home with and in them (eg Jn 14:20-23). So also the Christian is included in Jesus’ relationship to his Father, as the true vine to the gardener. 

And because Jesus is the true vine his Father cultivates and tends it. Pruning is the evidence of the Gardener’s care and skill. Branches are either cut off completely and removed, or they are pruned so that they will become more fruitful. Both involve the Gardener cutting branches, but the purpose differs.

The word for ‘pruning’ (καθαίρει) is the same as the word for ‘cleaning’ in v3. Jesus’ words are the instrument of God’s horticultural care: they prune the disciples clean. They are already loved by the Father. And so, in v4, they are to ‘remain’ in Jesus. This part of the parable builds upon the idea of indwelling in Jn 14:20 (cf Jn 6:56). Remaining means to “make home”, to be anchored, to live bonded together— as vine and branch. Jesus sees this relationship as mutual indwelling. The disciple makes a conscious response to God’s indwelling by choosing also to ‘make home’ with God. It is symbiotic relationship.

And so the life of Jesus’ disciple is not a casual ‘drop in / drop out’ affair. It is not something that is fit in between the other commitments of a busy life. Instead, it is the life— busy or otherwise. Some kind of ‘fruitfulness’ is usually what all the busyness of life aims to achieve. But lasting fruitfulness is brought about only when our bond with the vine is healthy, when it is carefully tended.

Try this quick thought experiment. Imagine you are a branch wanting to produce fruit. Where is your energy and attention best directed? To the far ends of your limbs— where the leafy bits are, where the fruit will ultimately be produced? Or to the other end, where you are connected to the vine, the source of all the nourishment is drawn from the soil? This parable makes it clear that our best efforts are to be directed towards our connection with the vine. 

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all the times I have neglected my relationship with you for the sake of ‘busyness’. Please help me to prioritise loving you, obeying you, serving you and enjoying you above all else— even above the precious ministry opportunities that you give so that I may produce the very fruit you desire. Amen.