I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
Our neighbor’s grapevine straddled the fence between our yards. A few years ago, I decided it was time to put those grapes on our side of the fence to good use. I read the complete article on jelly making from Joy of Cooking, and decided to try the “old-fashioned natural” method that didn’t require a thermometer or commercial pectin. I knew the jelly probably would be less stiff, but the cookbook promised “a far superior product, depending on the quality of the fruit.” As I mashed grapes, waited for them to cook, and strained the grapes and juice through a jelly bag, I kept thinking about that “quality of the fruit” phrase. <!–more–> I had time to sit down with John 15 again, and think about Jesus’ vine metaphor.
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:1-17)
First, it’s important to remember that we are the branches, not the fruit. We may be cut off from Christ, the vine, if we produce no fruit at all. We may be pruned to produce more and better fruit, and we are admonished to abide in Christ, just as the branch abides in the vine. Notice that we can only produce fruit if we abide in the vine. That fruit is love, given freely.
Our job, as branches, isn’t to focus on the fruit. Our job is to stay connected to the Vine. God will take care of the fruit. For jelly, it’s best to harvest the grapes when they are just barely ripe, and maybe a few are even a little green. Branches don’t like to let go of their grapes, so the clusters have to be cut from the vine. Likewise, we may enjoy feeling God’s love for us, but refrain from sharing it – it’s sweet to hold on and savor that goodness; it’s hard, sometimes, to make ourselves vulnerable to others, to give away the love God has made known to us. But Jesus encourages us to let God the vine dresser distribute the fruit according to His plan.
Sometimes, that may mean that the fruit is a little green, not so sweet. Mature fruit has its own purpose, however. By definition, fruit holds seeds. Unless the fruit ripens, it will be impossible for those seeds to develop into something worth planting. As followers of Jesus, our purpose is to make more disciples. We need to allow our own seeds of faith, surrounded by the ripe fruit of God’s love, to develop into something worth planting in the hearts of others.
A couple more observations: When you make jelly, draining the cooked grapes through a jelly bag strains out everything but the clear juice. If you squeeze the bag to get more juice faster, all you accomplish is getting stuff in your jelly that belongs in the compost. It’s important to let God refine us in His own good time, for the highest quality, for the clearest product.
And finally, sometimes things get messy. Love isn’t always tidy. Following Christ isn’t always neat and easy. Grape juice stains easily. But, depending on the quality of the fruit, God promises a far superior product to anything the world can offer.
May the gift of Christ’s Spirit bear much good fruit in our lives. Let us allow God to take his time with us, as we share his love with others, planting seeds of faith in those around us. May God prune us and tend us, that the fruit we bear for his Kingdom might be sweet and plentiful.