I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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.
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.John 15:1-5
The sweet aroma fills the kitchen. The magenta liquid bubbling away on the stove will turn into one of the best — in nearly every sense — products that our humble gardening efforts produce. Natural, pure, organic Concord grape juice.
We began years ago with two vines on a hastily constructed trellis in the backyard. We soon realized their aesthetic value in addition to their exquisite produce (Concords, straight off the vine, are easily my favorite grape, and possibly my favorite fruit), so we transplanted them close to the chainlink fence and added four more vines. Every summer we enjoy the beautiful grape leaves that hide our metal yard enclosure and every fall, usually beginning around Labor Day, we enjoy the fruit of the vines.
This year has been an exceedingly productive year for our grapes. The vines have produced abundantly—large clusters of big juicy fruit. We have made over 40 liters of juice this year with bunches of ripe fruit still hanging on the vines. To be honest, our process and care for the grapes has been the same this year as every other (mostly allowing mother nature to care for her own). But, for whatever reasons, we have more grapes than we can keep up with, giving away some juice and inviting friends over to the “you pick” section of the fence. Vines, young and older, have held copious amounts of sweet fruit.
Perhaps it was simply the perfect year in Grand Rapids for grapes. Just the right amount of sun and rain to produce full clusters of robust fruit. The grapes were matched by abundant strawberries and raspberries. But this was balanced by average to poor production from other fruits on “Hudberg Orchard/Farms.” Poor pear production, precious few peaches, bite-sized amounts of blueberries balanced the overall success of our fruit growth this year. Every year seems to be a bumper crop of some fruit while another plant struggles to produce much more than greenery.
As we fill our bowls with grapes to bring in and boil, reaping the harvest of a fruitful year, it’s difficult not to think of Jesus’ words about the vine and the branches. Cutting bunch after bunch of ripe fruit (and eating just enough to satisfy my watering mouth), It’s easy to see that the vine is healthy and pushing life-giving and fruit-growing nutrients to the branches. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.
Connected but Unproductive
Of all the surprising things that Jesus utters, and there are a fair amount, part of this statement ranks pretty high. Jesus says that it’s possible for a connected branch to be unproductive. It’s easy to imagine that being in Jesus, connected to him, is an automatically valuable and productive state. Yet Jesus warns that the possibility is real. There are branches on our vines that do not produce fruit. The necessity of cutting them off becomes apparent when we realize that they are still growing, taking precious minerals from the vine that could be going to the fruiting branches. Unfruitful branches take from the vine but do not produce anything in return. Jesus warns that such branches connected to him will be cut off.
Fruitful but Pruned to Bear More
Before we can take a sigh of relief, we are warned that it is not only the unfruitful branches that feel the edge of the gardener’s shears. Even those branches that are fruitful are trimmed, pruned, so that they can produce more fruit. This removal of everything that limits fruit production is a scary thought. We may believe that things in our lives are good and healthy, or, at worst, neutral and permissible for our comfort and enjoyment. But the gardener’s eye is unblinking. He cares for the vine and the branches, removing those twigs and sprouts that do not lead directly to a healthy and robust harvest. God has the best intentions for the vine. Wild, unchecked, and undirected growth is not the goal. A vine full of fruitful branches is.
Jesus is the Source
It seems rather obvious when it comes to the grapes, without the main vine, there are no branches and no fruit. The vine is what draws in the nutrients from the ground and delivers them to the growing branches and setting fruit. However, when it comes to a productive life, it’s sadly easier to miss the conduit through which fruit-producing nutrients flow. Jesus is the vine, through him flows the life-giving sap that leads to fruit. The branches that are cut or pruned no longer produce anything. They are disconnected from the source with no way to gather sustaining and fruit-producing resources from the ground. It is in Jesus that we live, move, and have our being.
Jesus said that he came so that we may have life, and life to the full. He has come to provide the life-giving, fruit-producing nutrients we need to have a life that is marked by giant clusters of ripe, delicious, healthy fruit.