Jesus is using the images and ideas, which were part of the religious heritage of the Jewish nation. Many of His stories find their symbolism in agriculture or the timing of the agricultural year. The seasons of sowing and harvesting are often the foundation of Kingdom principles, those wonderful gears of life that rotate in our favour. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God.
The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel(Isaiah 5:1-7).
Yet I planted you a choice vine (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel (15:18and 19:10) also likens Israel to the vine.
Israel empties his vine; He brings forth fruit for himself(Hosea 10:1).
You have brought a vine out of Egypt (Psalms 80:8).
My favourite vine-verse is Isaiah 27:2,3:
In that day sing to her,
“A vineyard of red wine!
I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day.
The vine had become the symbol of the nation of Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Many a great man had counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a new grape on to that vine.
Vines grew all over Palestine and still do. It needs attention to yield the best. They grow in terraces to provide clean soil. Sometimes they grow over the doors of the cottages. They need pruning to flourish. Young vines are not allowed to produce fruit for three years. They are cut back to develop strength and roots. After three years it is pruned in December and bears fruit in the summer. Branches that do not bear fruit are cut back as to not sap the strength of the plant. Jesus knew that the vine could not bear fruit if it were not pruned.
The wood of the vine was good for nothing. It was too soft to use in anything other than maybe a decorative basket. No vine wood was ever used for the Temple altars. The vine wood would be burnt to ashes.
Jesus declares Himself as the source of true life. Only by abiding in Him, fruit will be produced. The Jews were vines, but fruitless. They refused to listen, and became withered and useless. Christians are also fruitless when they practice religion in name only, without the power. They are traitors to the faith.
Paul said it straight out to Timothy:
…having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!(2 Timothy 3:5)
If Christianity is not a full commitment, there is no power. Rather be nothing than a double-minded, faithless, powerless Christian. [Church of Laodicea – Revelation 3:15,16]
When you hear the word pruning, what is your reaction? Is it negative or positive?
Pruning a vine to perfection for maximum yield is a finely tuned job for an expert and experienced vine grower. Just to get an idea of complexity Pliny the Elder, the Roman friend of Emperor Vespasian who wrote an encyclopedia on which many later encyclopedias were based, on Natural History explains:
Thus there are two kinds of main branches; the shoot which comes out of the hard timber and promises wood for the next year is called a leafy shoot or else when it is above the scar [caused by tying the branch to the trellis] a fruit- bearing shoot, whereas the other kind of shoot that springs from a year-old branch is always a fruit-bearer. There is also left underneath the cross-bar a shoot called the keeper—this is a young branch, not longer than three buds, which will provide wood next year if the vine’s luxurious growth has used itself up—and another shoot next to it, the size of a wart, called the pilferer is also left, in case the keeper-shoot should fail.
In the Greek text the words used for “prune” in verse 2 and “clean” in verse 3 are from a related root. In verse 2 this root is kathairei (the verb) and in verse 3 katharoi (the adjective).
According to the dictionary kathaireimeans to cleanse from which our word catharsis is taken implying relief and release.
It carries the meaning, amongst others, of the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.
Sometimes it might be used in a medical sense as a process of purging for the sake of being made whole, clean, or pure.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message captures the idea and feel of the passage much more effectively.
“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of methat doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken . . . “ (John 15:1-3 (The Message))
Correction and cleansing by the Father is always done in perfect love. It is impossible to be otherwise, even when it does not feel like it. Our Father is love and everything He does, comes from the source of love. Therefore it is for our relief that He cleans us. It is to release us from the filth and waste of a sinful life that He prunes the branches. It is the only way we can live a life of excellence.
We are already clean by the message…
…that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,(Ephesians 5:26)
We are being cleansed for our release of our obsession with riches, status and attitude. We are constantly molded by a godless society into a life of care and worry. The cutting away of earthly obsession and sin, is to release us into a life of liberty and freedom in Christ.
Abiding in Christ is the secret and the mystery. The words of Christ are our cleansing.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life, which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.(Galatians 2:20)
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.(Galatians 3:27)
Our identity is in Christ:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Every blessing is ours in Christ so that we are full to bear fruit.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,(Ephesians 1:3)
A child needs constant support and communication, to live home and be guided and nurtured. Children will wither on their own.
Life in Christ needs the same things. There is nothing if there is not contact, experience and commitment. We cannot grow up in two houses. It only brings confusion and rejection. Only when we choose the house of God and be an obedient child submitted to the direction and correction of our loving Father, we shall be whole and able to face the world.