Friday, September 23, 2011

Reflections on the Vine-Part II

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?

The purpose of the fruit, according to this text, seems evident, but let me share my shot at the translation of the Greek for the segment of text from 15:6-10.

"If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown away, like the branch which dries up and is gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned (this tense here is a "burning", rather than a completed action). If you all (plural) remain in me and my word remains in you all, then whatever you desire to ask will become to (for) you.  In this my Father is glorified, in order that you all bear much fruit and become my disciples.  As my father as loved me, I have loved you all. Remain (Imperative)in my love. If you obey (follow, keep) my commandments, you all are remaining in my love.  Just as I obeyed my Fathers commandments and remain in His love."

Recall from the previous blog post, that we are all branches connected to the Vine, in the Vine; however, the branches have a purpose beyond just being connected to the Vine. There is a active sense associated with the verb "remain" rather than a passive one.  The passive sense could simply imply that once we are connected to the Vine, then all is well. Well, in a sense, that is true for Jesus is the true Vine, and indeed, being connected to Him is very good. Yet the text does not stop there, does it?  As I mentioned before, verses 1 and 2 state that we all are in the vine yet some branches need to be removed because they are not fulfilling their purpose--bearing much fruit.     But then inevitably, we will ask, "Ok, fine, but what does that mean? How do I bear more fruit? What fruit am I supposed to be bearing?" 

If you are asking these questions, that is good thing! We need to ask questions--spend anytime in the Scriptures and you will see that every person who ever interacted with Jesus always had tons of questions--"Hey, what does the parable mean?"  "Hey, how can I have eternal life?"  "Hey, what does born again mean again?".   These questions came from Jesus twelve disciples, a Rich young ruler and a Pharisee who sought Jesus out in the dead of night.  Even Moses asked God questions like "Who are you? Why do you want to send me to Pharoah?".  So asking questions is good for it is how we grow beyond where we are right now. The important thing is that we listen, really listen, to the answers that Jesus provides for often we continue to ask the same questions over and over again when Jesus has already given us the answer, according to the Scriptures.  So, let's turn back to the Text.  We can always spend time discussing what we think the metaphor of the Vine means in relation to our connection to Christ, but it is essential to look at the Text and let it speak to us, rather than us speaking to it.  

Pay attention first to that all important conditional "IF", which indicates that there is a possibility that "you all" won't do what He is saying.  Or you all might.  It is what is called a subjunctive tense, and it gives us a sense that we are somehow obligated to respond, to assent to what Jesus is describing about Himself as the Vine.  But, essentially, there is a possibility, or danger, that we will not respond, or assent.  Being aware of this tense should give us a sense of how important what Jesus is saying with regard to how we approach our relationship with Him--we are always in danger of somehow slipping away from (consider Hebrews 2:1-4) what we know to be Truth, and that should keep us awake and aware of where we are in relation to the True Vine, Jesus--at all times. If we do not remain in the Vine, (which we should perhaps understand, at least according to the Text, that the branches who remain in the Vine are producing fruit (of some kind) then those branches that do not remain in the Vine are thrown into the fire to be burned (continually--can you say "ouch"!?).  But these branches are not just chopped off and then burned immediately--they are allowed to dry up.  They are left to dry up, then they are gathered (at some point in time?) and burned.

There is a huge oak tree in my backyard, and it is thriving and green, but there is a branch that has been apparently beaten up by a wind storm.  What is evident is that it is still connected to the Tree because it hasn't fallen to the ground (and this has been for three months now), but it is also vividly dying, its leaves are brown and withered, lifeless, against the stark contrast of green, vibrant leaves surrounding it.  But it is still connected to the Tree?  How can this be?  I have watched this branch for months as I sit upon my backyard swing, pondering how this illustration relates to the Vine that Jesus is describing in John 15. Also, if you have ever seen a tree die, over time, it's branches seem to die one at a time--it is a slow, arduous process, almost painful to watch as life seems to seep out of its branches.  I ask myself some questions about the Vine--clearly it is possible to be still connected to the Vine without bearing fruit, and what if I am that branch?  Am I bearing fruit? Or am I dying on the Vine?  So, being in the Vine is not the goal; Jesus says "remain" in the Vine (intentionally active language that describes intentional, purposeful action).  There is a relationship between the branches and the Tree--they both depend on one another, though certainly the branches depend greatly upon the deep roots of the Tree for nourishment, yet the Roots need the nourishment that the sunlight gives to the Leaves of the branches.  There is a "give and take" relationship.  Remaining could mean responding, or giving back, love or adoration--or thanks.  If we must, we will use language like "produce" with regard to fruit, though I am sensitive enough to understand that in the West we have an understanding of "production" that is economically defined--quantity not quality, cheap not expensive, etc.--and thus can negatively impact our perception of what Jesus means when He asks us to produce "much fruit".  We are not a manufacturing industry that produces numerous plastic-molded fruits with efficiency without regard for the longsuffering process of building "authentic, real, true" fruit that LASTS--which is a key theme mentioned later in this chapter.  SO, with that in mind, I suggest that our "production" of fruit may correlate with how we respond to God's love in Jesus and that our response through obedience to his commandments appears to glorify the Father; Jesus is also quick to point out that He too has obeyed and love the Father, just as He expects us to do. This, according to this segment of Text, seems to be the purpose of the "much fruit"--we produce fruit by remaining in Christ, the True Vine, and "remaining" perhaps could be understood as responding to His love and obeying His commandments.  

Consider again the tree and the branches--there is a two-way street occuring in that very essential connection between the two--are we receiving from Christ the grace and mercy that is a wonderful gift without responding in obedience to His Call on our lives as Christians?

Until next time. Peace.

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