“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.” John 15:1-2
The text from John 15 that includes Jesus saying, “I am the vine,” is followed by some cringe-worthy pruning metaphors. Pruning is great if you’re the one holding the clippers. If you’re the subject of the pruning: ouch! There’s a lot to this text that is cringe-worthy and has been used to inflict harm. If Jesus had instead used the Marie Kondo philosophy (keep it if it brings you joy), we might not be so wary of the analogy of vine and branches.
During Lent, we might sometimes abstain from some of those very things that spark joy. How does this make sense? We hold back from a treat so that we can appreciate it more. In the act of refraining from something, we consider how we fill our lives with many diversions, decisions, and details that take away attention from the movement of God in our lives and in our world.
What are we aching for? What is the yearning that arises from cutting out something for a time?
I don’t know much about vines and branches, except that they are persistent. Cutting back the vines that invaded my snowbush year after year was a perpetual project. Perhaps the lesson is that they persisted. The persistence has more to do with the vine’s strength and perennial appearance than the branches I could more easily cut off.
If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, my hope is that the strength and persistence of the vine flows through us, keeping us connected. Growing from the vine, we abide in the life-giving ways of Jesus, whose sacrifice ultimately arises in us as true joy and everlasting hope.
The vine is the source of our life; we branch out from that source to make fruit.
Prayer: Send your light and life as the vine that sustains me, O Christ. If I feel cut off or estranged, may your persistent love reach me, sustain me, and keep me rooted in you, abiding in your glowing grace, strong love, and precious Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Cindi Veldheer DeYoung is a hospital chaplain in West Michigan. Long, long ago, Cindi worked with pastoral care groups to support people with HIV/AIDS. She has served on the RCA’s General Synod Council; she attends Hope Church, RCA, Holland. She enjoys life with her spouse, Rev. Terry DeYoung, and their Brittany Spaniel, Dexter, whose antics truly bring
them joy (most of the time).