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5th Sunday of Easter (Ages 9-12): Joy in the Vine


Last week, we heard part of the parable of the Good Shepherd. This week we hear part of the parable of the True Vine. These two great parables help us to understand our relationship with Jesus, our relationship with each other, our relationship with God. We call this relationship, "covenant."

Jesus says,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower...

From the very beginning of the parable, Jesus makes the relationship between himself and God the Father very clear. A vinegrower's main concern is the life and health of the vine. He wants the vine to produce fruit. If this was a grapevine, the fruit would be used to make wine. Wine, as we know, is a symbol of joy in the Bible. We might say that the True Vine exists to bring true joy to the world.

Photo by Boudewijn Huysmans on Unsplash

Jesus is also clear about who we are in this covenant:

I am the vine, you are the branches.

A vine, we know, is made up entirely of branches. Together, the branches carry all the life of the vine. Jesus, the vine, has Risen Life. So together, as branches of him, we carry Risen life in us.

In an ordinary vine, sap carries life throughout the plant to each of the branches. In the True Vine, what is the sap? What carries the Risen life of Jesus to each of us? Or maybe we should say, who does this?

Jesus tells us what God the Father does as the vinegrower:

He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.

If a branch does not produce fruit, God removes it. We wonder what this could mean. If a branch does not bear fruit, there is something wrong inside of it. The sap does not flow within it. Something has gone wrong. There is no joy. We wonder why this could be.

God the Father prunes the branches of the vine that already bear fruit. This is what all good vinegrowers do. If no one prunes the vine, the branches will grow in all sorts of directions, devoting their energy to growing and not necessarily to producing fruit. The vinegrower focuses the life of the vine by pruning—cutting parts of the branches away—so that the branch does not spend energy growing in many different directions. Now the branch grows according to the will of the vinegrower. As a result, the branch bears even more fruit. Even more joy.

You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.

This sentence does not seem to fit at first. First Jesus talks about God the Father pruning branches; now he seems to talk about cleansing. However, the Greek word for pruning and for cleansing is the same. So when Jesus says "You have already been cleansed," he means we have already been pruned. God the Father focuses the life within us through the Word that Jesus speaks. The Word of God prunes us; it causes us to grow according to the will of God. (How good then, that we spend time each week thinking about the Word of God!)

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

Here is Jesus' great invitation to us:

Abide in me, make your home in me, remain in me.

Here also is Jesus' great announcement to us:

We are already together. I in you. You in me.

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

This is how the sap of the True Vine can flow from Jesus to each one of us—by abiding, by remaining. This is how that sap produces fruit in us, this is how we do the will of God, this is how we bring true joy to the world—by abiding, by remaining.

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

This is the difficult part. What does Jesus mean? A branch that does not abide in the vine has cut itself off from the life of the plant. Of course, an ordinary branch of an ordinary vine cannot choose to cut itself off. But we can. We can choose not to live in covenant relationship with God. We may think that we will find joy away from God, but Jesus makes it clear that this is not so.

So what happens? Is this a warning about hell? Possibly.

But Jesus tells this parable to the disciples at the Last Supper—before his arrest, before they desert him, before they betray him, before they deny him.

A vinegrower will cut off a branch that carries no sap within it. The rest of the vine cannot make the branch grow. Something is wrong within it, and leaving it on the vine could affect the health of the other branches. A vinegrower will take the dead branch and burn it to purify it, to get rid of anything within it that is diseased, that has gone bad. Then the ashes are taken and mixed into the soil. All the nutrients that remain in the ashes go into the soil to feed the life of the vine. This does not sound like hell. It sounds a bit like purgatory. It sounds something like forgiveness and second chances.

It sounds exactly like the mercy of God.

We worry about people who reject God. We worry about the people we know who do not care about God. As branches of the True Vine, what can we do?

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

We abide, and we pray. We tell the vinegrower of our concerns. The vinegrower cares for the branches.

The question then is, how do we abide in Jesus? How do we remain on the True Vine? We can think of ways. We have already mentioned a couple.

And what if we worry that we made choices that blocked the sap of the True Vine? What if we need more of that Risen life to feed the growth of our branch, to bring more joy to the world?

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

A vine producing lots of fruit shows how good the vinegrower is. Remember, the vinegrower's main concern is the life and health of the vine. He wants us to remain, to abide, to live our lives together with him. We grow according to his will. So much joy! How much our world needs this delightful fruit!

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