Now Jesus shifts to another image, one which he hasn’t used before in illustrating our relationship with him and the Father. It’s a rich image, and it has several lessons for us.
I’m a city boy (or at least I know very little about farming or rural life), but here are some things even I know. I don’t remember much from my high school biology classes, and I’m certainly no botanist (my wife handles that in our household), but I do recall one class in particular which is relevant to today’s passage.
I remember a film on growing fruit and vegetables, and one thing really stands out. A boy was growing tomato plants, and the narrator described what he was doing while he was doing it. The boy was trimming leaves off the plant, and the narrator explained that he wanted big tomatoes, not big leaves. Pruning is the process by which a gardener cuts off parts of the plant which are being used to grow something the gardener isn’t interested in seeing. Leaves aren’t bad or poisonous in themselves; it’s just that the gardener knows that the nutrients and other resources which are being channeled into growing leaves should be channeled into growing what the plant’s supposed to produce.
That puts today’s passage in perspective, doesn’t it? There are lots of things into which we can pour our time which are not direct Kingdom work: watching movies, eating out, going to a hockey game, etc. These aren’t bad in themselves, but if they’re interfering with what God wants to see in my life, then they’re likely to get pruned. Notice, if you’re using the NIV, that the text note says that the word for “pruning” is the same one for “cleaning.” It’s his process of paring down. The Father’s in the process of conforming me to the likeness of his Son, and that means he’s going to cut away everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.
Does this mean that the Father’s against fun? Of course not! Remember, we always need to keep in mind the context of Scripture. We know that he’s the source of everything good in our life, and everything—no matter how mundane or how “secular”--should be offered up to him and enjoyed in his presence. What it does mean is that we need to have the proper perspective on our life and our ultimate purpose: To be conformed to the likeness of Christ. Everything that helps that end, he’ll nurture it. Everything that doesn’t—he’ll prune it.
Now let’s move from talking about the Gardener (our Father) to the Vine (Jesus) and the branches (us). There’s one lesson I’d like to focus on today: We’re utterly dependant on him, not him on us. We have to remain connected to the Vine. What happens to a branch once you cut it off from the vine? It’s separated from nourishment and life, and it withers and dies. I almost wish I could brand this on my forehead: “Without me you can do NOTHING.” Not some things. Nothing.
Without him, acting thru his Spirit, we can do nothing. At least, nothing of eternal significance. I can attend church, mouth prayers which impress others, put money in the offering plate, all without his Spirit moving within me. But it’s all for nothing, and it leads to nothing.
So what does it mean to be “cut off”? Does this mean we can lose our salvation? If you’ve been reading for a while, you should know my answer to that question. But I think we need to examine it in more detail tomorrow.
Lord Jesus, how often do I need to relearn that lesson? How many times do I need to recognize that apart from you I can do NOTHING?