By David Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of John 15:1-11
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide 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. 5I 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. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
About 30 years ago I was driving on vacation through my home state of California with my father and both sons. California is noted for its hundreds of wineries and vast tracts of picturesque vineyards. At one point we saw a dozen or so men working on a section of a vineyard adjacent to our road. We pulled over and got out to watch what they were doing. My older son, about eleven years old, asked the supervisor a question. The man pulled out a hooked knife, walked over to one of the vines, cut off a bunch of grapes, and brought it to my son. The grapes were the largest I had ever seen, each about the size of a golf ball. My eyes popped open with astonishment, and I took a closer look at the vines. They were packed solid with impressively enormous grapes. The crop needed careful tending throughout the year, including proper pruning, to produce this fullness.
California is the only place on earth that has a climate identical to that of the Holy Land. When Jesus used vines, vineyards, pruning, and fruitfulness as an analogy for being a faithful disciple, he was describing what his hearers knew by first-hand experience, and which I had known since boyhood. The interconnectedness of the vines, the expertise of a caring vinedresser, the fruitfulness (or unfruitfulness) of a vine are clear symbols of what it means to be a disciple. The word Jesus uses is “abide”; it is a passive verb, reminding us that genuine fruitfulness is less about “doing” than in steeping oneself in the love of the Father which is manifested in the love Jesus shows us. The only “doing” mentioned in this lesson is “keeping the Father’s commandments.” The result is joy, joy that Jesus desires to be full.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
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