Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reflections on the Vine--Part 1

God has been calling me back again and again to the image of being in the Vine.  The Vine that is so beautifully illustrated in the Gospel of John.  The illustration begins by setting forth the main elements of the image of the Vine.  Who is the Vine?  Jesus. Who is the branches? We are.  Who is the Gardener? The Father.  The Scripture seems to want the hearer's of this parable to remember the essentialness of remaining (staying, dwelling) in the Vine. What does it mean to be in the Vine (v.1) as compared to the Scripture's recurrent call for us to remain (stay, dwell) in the Vine? 

For many months, God has kept me resolutely planted (no pun intended!) in these select verses and chapters, reading and reflecting and re-reading and reflecting on these verses in Greek.  I am ever thankful for the God-given wisdom and ability to read the Greek New Testament (albeit exceedingly slow at times! But I am getting quicker!).  The Greek language opens up the Scriptures to me in a way that continues to astound and humble me.  I would like to share my reflections on this text in several parts as I continue to study and read and pray for God's wisdom and insight into this exceedingly complex scripture.  

Complex? You may wonder why I would say that the parable of the Vine is complex.  After all, we Christians know the story of the Vine and bearing fruit, and all that jazz.  We've all seen the vivid illustrations of the Tree, or the Vine, and the fruit--often rightly associated with the fruits of the Spirit in Ephesians. So, what is complex about that?  Well, as anyone who has spent any amount of time in the Gospel of John comes to realize, there does not seem to be anything simple about John's theology, and the manner in which he illustrates the exceedingly abstract conceptions of faith, love and hope.  After many months reading the Gospel of John, I continue to find myself back in the chapters on the Vine, seeking to truly understand the meaning of remain in the Vine, and Jesus' association with loving Him as He has loved His Father, which then seems to result in fulfilling His great commandment to "love one another".

I think the conceptualization of the Vine begins in Chapter 14 of John's Gospel. The Disciples, whom one would think would know to obey and understand Jesus' teachings, are asking him a series of questions that seem to irritate Jesus.  Phillip and others ask Jesus to show them the Father.  Jesus responds with question, "After all this time, you do not know that the Father and I are one? Do you not believe?"  Jesus explains that what He says (λογος) comes from the Father, who is the One doing all of these works that Jesus is doing (miracles, healings, etc).  Jesus then says, "If you can't believe that the Father and I are one, then at least believe in the Works that you have seen."  What a strange thing to say? Is Jesus saying "fine, don't believe"?  If one stops reading there, perhaps they would come away with that understanding, however, one should continue reading for Jesus is explaining to the Disciples the essential aspect of doing faith. See, Jesus explains that he has done the works in obedience to His Father, in order that the Father be glorified. Jesus is pointing to the Father as the primary One who deserves complete obedience and Glory.   Jesus seems to be describing the nature of remaining and dwelling in the Father, which is then further illustrated in the Vine.  Jesus says that the only ways He has done these works is because of His remaining in the Father--remaining perhaps being equated to love, which also seems to be a very evident theme in the segment as well.  The point of remaining in Jesus is not so much about what we do but whom we glorify.  

So, simply to be in the Vine is not the message of this parable. In 15:1, Jesus says that the Father will take away any branch in Him that does not bear fruit.  The Text does not say where the branch will go yet, but it will be taken away. But the branch that bears fruit will be pruned (cleansed) by the Father in order for it to bear more fruit. The former branch that does not bear fruit clearly is in the Vine, yet it is taken away.  Why?  It is not bearing fruit.  So being in the Vine is not goal rather remaining in the Vine, dwelling in the Vine, seems to indicate a more active experience rather than passively hanging out in the Vine.  The Vine nourishes the Branches with the purpose of the Branches producing fruit. In Chp 14, Jesus is teaching His disciples that He and the Father are one, and the realization of this Oneness is His remaining in the Father thus producing the works of the Father.  

Let us take one more step together into Chp 15.  Immediately following verses 1 and 2 in the Chapter, Jesus explains that you all (ya'll) are already clean (which is a noun, but the same root as the verb used in vs. 1, "cleanse, prune") because the Word I have said to you all.  In Chp 14, the Text tells us that the Word has been sent by the Father (v. 23-24), and we know, and are taught, and are being reminded of this Word through the Holy Spirit (14:17), whom is sent by the Father. Because of Jesus' teaching, which came from the Father, we have already been cleansed , pruned and thus should already being bearing fruit. 

So, what does it mean to bear fruit? When we bear fruit, there is a certain expectation that there will be comfort or ease in this fruit-bearing, yet in vs. 1 it is evident that we see that the Gardener will always continue to prune (cleanse) us so that we bear more. Therefore, there will likely be some measure of pain or discomfort associated with the bearing of fruit.  More importantly, what is the nature of this fruit?  We assume it is the Fruits of the Spirit, which I believe is correct, however what does this text in John say about this fruit and its purpose?

More next time. Peace.

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