In our Sunday meetings we are exploring the gifts of the Spirit, and I can’t help but notice how Jesus demonstrates all of them.
We considered the spiritual gift of teaching this week, and one of the qualities that makes Jesus the Master Teacher was that he used whatever was around him to impart the way of life. His motive was to be understood by the common people, not to look smart or obtain power. So his metaphors are of everyday images to first-century agrarian Palestinians.
Last night my cell tried to understand his teaching about the vine and the branches. I think we understood A LOT, even though we are not first-century agrarian Palestinians, and that says a lot about the Holy Spirit in us. Here are some particular reflections:
Jesus got pruned. 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. We figured that if the Son of God got pruned, we might need it too. An un-pruned grape vine is a scraggly mess, as pictured. Its energy is wasted on branches that go all over the place but hardly produce. Our desires work the same way in relation to the Gardener. Most of us are familiar with going all over the place and struggling to produce. Some of us have been led around by unchecked desire, and it didn’t work out so well. We could imagine the natural consequence of being like a branch that is thrown away by the world when it withered. Jesus is teaching us how to live into our destiny instead. We want to bear fruit that will last, and this involves looking beyond ourselves. It involves surrender to the Gardener.
The whole process happens in community. When Jesus says, Remain in me he is not talking about a cosmic intellectual assent to a higher power. The “me” is the transhistorical body of Christ, the Church—us—together. Remaining with each other we bear fruit together in the vine, which is Christ. If we cut ourselves off from each other, we can be cut off from life. The church is the antidote to the wasting of individualism. We actually matter. When we covenant with each other in real time and place, we are getting into our fullness, like these mature vines. They are bound to the same wire, growing together, submitted to the same kind of pruning, and therefore highly fruitful in season. We want to create that kind of opportunity as a Circle of Hope, as we submit to one another in love.
Love takes time. A grape vine does not bear fruit automatically. If it is going to be fruitful it is stripped down to one main branch early on (draw your own spiritual conclusions). If it is bound tightly to a frame and generously cut then it may bear fruit around its third year. That’s a lot of rain, sun, soil, attention, cutting, and time until the sweetness of grapes are enjoyed. When Jesus commands us to remain in his love so we can love one another he is not talking about an instant or easy process. He is sharing his love that allows us to suffer the ways of love, to bear one another’s burdens and be healed. He is inviting us to be forgiven and to forgive, over and over again. We come into our fullness as we are patient with one another in this process, and in time, our lives reveal the miraculous sweetness of this harvest that gives food to the world.