Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.
This parable of the vine and branches beautifully describes the Christian life, and yet the threat of losing contact with Jesus is woven into it. These ominous remarks are like the dead branches themselves.
A casual glance at a grape vine as it drapes over a wire or twine network shows only a mass of large green leaves soaking up the sunshine. But, as you look into the vine, searching for clusters of grapes, you'll also see the dead branches. They disintegrate when you pull at them, breaking into pieces ready to be burned or discarded on a compost heap. The living branches resist your assault on the dead ones; they survive to bear more fruit.
The parable of the vine both promises and warns; a combination we often hear in the New Testament:
“The one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says this: “I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Revelation 3:1 “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. Revelations 3:15What are we to make of this weave of promises and threats? Is our God moody, irritable and arbitrary, as people often say of their "Old Testament God?" Does he sit in his heaven watching and waiting for an opportunity to punish us. Tennessee Williams, in The Night of the Iguana, said: "All your Western theologies, the whole mythology of them, are based on the concept of God as a senile delinquent."
I find in this Parable of the Vine a sharp reminder of the healthy tension in our human nature. We have been given our freedom, but it feels insecure. We live in time and eternity. I am always "one of us," and yet I am apart from others, responsible only for myself and yet responsible for the people to whom I belong. How does one answer Cain's sarcastic question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
How readily I assume I'm right with God and waste the opportunities for actual communion! I have my habits, attitudes and expectations; and like everyone else, I need my normal days. Without a great many consecutive normal days, I can't function at all.
But as I pay attention to the details and demands of my routines, I may ignore the presence of God's spirit, and the questioning, searching presence of others. They may say, "Here I am!" and I might not notice. The Lord may whisper, "Here's the right moment and here is what you must do!" and I am in some other time and place.
The Vine reminds us of that freedom which we often ignore. The Pentateuch recalls the endless grumbling of the Hebrew people as God led them out of Egypt into freedom. After hundreds of years of slavery, they hardly knew how to think for themselves. They expected God to feed them in the wilderness but they didn't even know how to ask; much less how to accept the blessings he gave them. They called one gift "manna" meaning, "What is it?" Because slaves owe no thanks to their masters, their Liberator had to spell out the precise details of their worship so that they could give appropriate thanks.
The challenge of these changing times is to be aware of the present opportunity, the past as it opened to this moment, and the future which I create with every act. No one can know everything he needs to know; no one can see all the consequences of every act, and yet we're responsible for them!
We must have the Holy Spirit to guide us. A lifetime of habits, centuries of tradition, a book of rules: these can help but we need God's immediate Presence, that Spirit which is cultivated through daily prayer and all the balances that make for a healthy life.
Endlessly we should thank God -- for the good and the bad, for the desirable and undesirable. Everything is gift. As Job said,
"We accept good things from the Lord, and should we not accept the bad. The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."Therein lies Freedom.