In the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. It’s a powerful image that bears much reflection. Bruce Wilkinson’s book gives some great insights on the subject. Indeed it is probably understood only to the degree that it is lived.
Another aid in understanding this metaphor is certainly to spend time in vineyards and learn, first-hand, what this is all about really. Overlooking our town of Soultz in the Alsace region of France, we have a hillside of vineyards. It’s about a 5 minute walk from our house to get into the heart of these vineyards…and your heart will be pumping after the walk up the hill too! I’ve not profited enough from their proximity in the year we’ve lived here so far. For my physical heart’s sake and my heart of heart’s sake, I vow to go there more often.
This morning I went there and I felt that I got another glimpse into this metaphor of John 15.
“I am the vine, you are the branches…” actually doesn’t appear until verse 5. Verse 1 and 2 speak of another player in this drama…The Vinedresser. This is God the Father, and I saw a bit of truth about His role this morning. Let me explain…
In modern vineyards, there are metal cables strung along the row of vines at varying heights for the vine branches to attach themselves to. Otherwise, it’s a pretty unkempt, floppy mess!
The vinedresser is the one who plants these vines in a row and then stretches this straight cable all along the row. What is interesting is how the vine branches are attached to these cables. Take a look at the following two pictures:
I took these pictures this morning of the same vine. The picture on the left is of a branch up high, at the top of the plant. The picture on the right is of a branch down low, at the bottom of the plant. The difference I saw was striking.
- The branch up high held on to the cable with its own natural strength and abilities
- The branch down low was attached by a metal clip that the vinedresser had put on
- The branch up high was thinner
- The branch down low was thicker
- The natural grip of the high branch was nicer to look at
- The super-natural grip of the low branch seemed comparatively ugly…
- The natural grip for the branch up high could support the weight of the high, thin branch
- The branch below could not have been held up by such a natural grip and did not even appear to be trying to create one
- The branch on high had no grapes
- The branch below had several clusters of grapes that were in the process of ripening
It says in verse 8 that the Father, the Vinedresser, is glorified when we bear much fruit. What I saw was that our Heavenly Father gives us a strong, straight support upon which to lean. In the metaphor, this could be the Word of God and/or the Holy Spirit. They both work in tandem anyway. Perhaps it is the whole package of how we are “supported”. We don’t fall when we are supported. That’s the first truth and it’s an important one.
So often though, we’re a Church that looks good; has high flourishing, green branches, but they are not necessarily the ones that are bearing the fruit. What I saw was that the low, mature branches were bearing the fruit. I also saw that the Father had “supernaturally” provided for those branches that were heavy-leaden with fruit. He attached the branch Himself to the support with an “anchor” sure and firm and stronger than any anchor that the branch could have provided for itself. The branch was focused on bearing fruit, not being up high, not how it looked, not supporting itself.
The low branch glorified the Vinedresser…