Pruning is an essential gardening skill. I’ve discovered that my plants will only thrive and produce optimal blossoms if they are pruned at the right time. Right now the nearby vineyards are becoming lush with greenery. The upcoming summer season will ripen all the grapes and, after the harvest, the gardener will drastically prune each plant until they look like nothing will grow from them again. Every January I prune my roses, certain I’ve finally pruned it too much and killed the poor plant. Several week later, I witness new growth and leaves and buds. Amazing.
How often do you feel like you’re being pruned, each disappointment or piece of news cutting a little more or wounding a little deeper? I’m at that magical age where every time I go to the doctor I’m facing yet another surgery. These old limbs have been pruned so much they need to be reinforced with titanium! Sometimes we can accept life’s curveball and see it as an opportunity to grow and other times we feel like we’re being cut down at the root.
That’s why I love what Jesus says about vines. You can read the short passage here. Many read this passage and think it’s about judgement and threat. But when we consider the context of Jesus’ narrative, you see that this a metaphor of promise and hope.
It is the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. He knows what is about to go down when everyone else is having trouble following what he’s talking about. He knows they are bound to be cut down by his crucifixion and death. He anticipates that things will get worse before they ever get better and knows they will be at their wits’ end. John, who is writing this account many, many years after Jesus’ crucifixion, has seen the community scattered, most likely thrown out of their synagogues, and persecuted for their beliefs. No doubt he has heard conversations of how they feel abandoned and uncertain about their survival. John is writing to assure them that they have not been abandoned and, that while they have indeed been pruned, they will still have abundant life.
I’m sure that was a tough sell! There sure wasn’t much evidence that anything good was coming their way, much less how they were going to even get through it! A fruitful future was not on their horizon. At all. And isn’t that how we feel too? We’re so beaten down by uncertainty and distress, it is difficult to see much of anything good coming from it. IF we make it that far.
It’s in the midst of that uncertainty and distress that Jesus invites us to abide. He promises that he will cling to us as the grapevine clings to the wire it grows along for support and strength. No matter what happens, Jesus will be with us. No matter what happens, Jesus will hold on to us. No matter what happens, God in Jesus will bring something good to us in the end.
When we remember that Jesus is sharing these words with his closest friends before he’s about to be snatched and strung up on a cross to die, we begin to see God’s commitment to wrestle life and hope in the middle of all that seems most devoid of life and hope. I don’t think the cross is the mechanism by which God forgives and redeems us because we are so wretched. I believe the cross is a reminder that God chose, through Christ, to get involved with all life’s frailties and trials, hopes and triumphs, so that we might know God’s unending, eternal commitment to us. The cross is not the instrument that made it possible for God to love us. The cross is the evidence and testimony of how much God already loves us. The resurrection reminds us that those hardships and disappointments, even death, will not have the last word.
It’s not always easy abiding or even drawing upon God’s promise that we will never be abandoned. And then I see beautiful roses and grapevines laden with juicy grapes supported by the wires strung up in the vineyard. And I am reminded.