In this part of John’s gospel, Jesus is talking to his disciples at the beginning of what we call “The Farewell Discourse”. Here Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for the time when he will not be physically with them. And he begins by saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” (15:1)
I was thinking about those words on Friday when I heard a friend describe her excitement about getting to plant the tomato plants she had grown from seeds. I’ve heard the same elation from other gardening friends when the bulbs they planted in the fall push up through the ground and show off their bright colors.
God is a vine grower, gardener or farmer. Listening to my gardening friends, I imagine God’s own delight and anticipation, as the One who creates us and watches us grow and live.
Picturing God that way makes me wonder,
What is the picture of God you carry with you?
I don’t have much of a green thumb. The plants I’ve managed to keep alive are hardy but I have learned some things that help fill out this picture of God as the vinegrower or gardener.
Gardeners don’t plant spoiled seed or cultivate weeds. They don’t sabotage the plants they tend. They collect vegetable waste, egg shells and coffee grounds for compost that turns into rich soil. They don’t delight when a plant starves for nourishment – sunlight or water; instead, they carefully watch to see that the plants are thriving and they change and adapt to care for them when they aren’t. When a frost threatens, gardeners raid linen closets for bedsheets to cover tender plants, and when there’s drought, they use rain barrels and sprinklers to keep them quenched.
When we see God as a vinegrower, a gardener or farmer, we can picture God tending the vine and the branches, wanting them to do what they’re planted to do ̶ to bear fruit. After all, there’s no other reason to tend a vine. They grow wild and untamed all on their own.
When Jesus says that God removes the branches that don’t bear fruit and prunes those that do, it’s easy to hear harsh or unyielding judgment, especially if the picture you hold of God is the all-too-common picture of God as an angry judge or a demanding task master. A God who is watching for our failures or mistakes. A God whose love depends on our efforts or accomplishments.
But Jesus isn’t talking about judgment, so much as identity. God is the vinegrower, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Branches exist to flower and leaf or bear fruit. If branches wither, they’re cut off so that the branches that are still living can flourish. Deadwood can trigger fires, spread disease and attract harmful insects. Pruning strengthens the living branches, making sure they get what they need.
Remember in Luke 12 where Jesus says,
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you… (Luke 12:27-28 NRS)
God the vinegrower has planted each one of us, tends to our needs and clothes us in baptism.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the picture of God you carry with you is different. Seeking to understand God’s love, we Christians often put all kinds of limits on God. The free gift of grace sounds like foolishness to us. I’ve met a lot of people who have been told they have disappointed God or that God doesn’t love them because of something they’ve done or failed to do; people who are afraid of God and cannot believe God loves them.
But God is a loving Creator who delights in you, who calls you good and wants you to flourish and bear fruit.
God wants you in the vineyard so much that God sent Jesus to the world that we may know how much God loves us. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and forgiveness. No amount of toiling or spinning or striving matters. God the vinegrower tenderly and lovingly cares for us, giving us this grace because God knows we cannot live without it.
Let us pray…
Good and gracious God,
Thank you for your Son Jesus who grafts us onto the vine that we will live;
Help us trust your care and provision, believing your love and forgiveness are for us;
Strengthen us that we may thrive and bear fruit, showing others what life in Christ looks like.
We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus.