Summary: Jesus uses the picture of a vineyard to teach us about how to have real life, good fruit and benefit from the Lord pruning our lives.
We live in the midst of Oregon wine country. Traveling down any rural road around Newberg and Dundee yields a plethora of tourist signs leading to vineyards and wineries with hard to pronounce names. Gentle hillsides that once grew part of the world’s largest crop of Christmas trees are now covered with grape vines. Oregon vineyards produced 34,400 tons of wine grapes, valued at $60.2 million in 2006, according to recently released figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Production was up 38 percent compared with 2005, thanks to high yields and an increase in newly producing vines. Oregon’s mild winters and warm summers, coupled with ample rain and cool Autumn days combine to produce world class grapes.
But it’s not just climate that determines whether a particular vine will produce fruit worthy of being bottled into a fine vintage or simply cut down and thrown away. The difference is in the care of the vine.
Right now in vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley and especially here in Yamhill County, vinedressers are busy preparing grape vines to produce this year’s crop. Each spring at this time a process of pruning takes place—as much art as science—to encourage growth, and not just any growth, but the right kind of growth to produce the best kind of fruit. Different regions grow different kinds of grapes better than others, and there are dozens of varieties of grapes in all sizes, flavors, and colors. Grapes are in fact the most widely grown fruit in the world. The quality of the grapes are dependent entirely on the rooted stock. Individual branches are grafted onto that stock in order to produce.
Why do I bring this up? Because as part of Jesus’ last words to his friends before his arrest, Jesus uses the vine and process of pruning as a metaphor for the care he and the Father take of the vines and branches in his vineyard.
In Chapter 14 Jesus promised that he was preparing a permanent home for those that trusted in him, and that far from leaving them as orphans, Jesus would go away only to send a Comforter to take up that same permanent abode in our hearts—transforming us from the inside into someone that thinks and acts like Jesus.
In Chapter 15 he continues this thought progression to talk about how that process occurs. It goes like this:
Fruit comes from a spur (branch) that is 1) connected to a live vine, 2) is properly trained and pruned each spring by a vinedresser to 3) produce a better and better quality of fruit each year.
The concepts in verses 1 – 6 are:
1. What is the “true” vine
2. What does it mean to bear fruit or not bear it (what is fruit)
3. What does it mean to prune?
4. Why are we “clean” from hearing Jesus’ words?
5. What does it mean to “abide” in the Lord and in his Word?
6. What does it mean to not abide and be “thrown away”?
To understand the context of what Jesus is talking about we need to go back to what was probably his source in the Old Testament, Isaiah 5:1-7
Isaiah 5: 1
God loves his people, that is what motivates him.
God created the right growing conditions and rootstock and protection against enemies to allow fruit to blossom and mature.
3 – 4
God did everything he could to encourage production, but the vineyard brought forth wild grapes. The words in English for grape are the same, but in Hebrew they are two different words. “Grape” means “to produce fruit” whereas “wild grapes” comes from a word that means “stench”. The word means “poison berries.” So instead of bringing something that sustains life the fruit of these vines produces death.
5 – 6
This poisonous outcome means God will no longer provide a growing medium for the vines that they might not produce even more poison. He will not protect it, provide for it, or prune it any more.
To bring the analogy home, God identifies the vineyard with Israel as a people, his offspring. The fruit he was looking for was evidence that his character was rubbing off on them, but instead they just got worse in their sin. By the way, there is a bit of word play in Hebrew here. The words for justice and bloodshed sound alike in Hebrew, as do the words righteousness and outcry.
What does this mean? God gave them his Word, which pointed them towards trust and reliance on Yahweh for their every need. But the children of Israel were more interested in being like all the nations around them and getting all the “stuff” that they thought was so cool from the world rather than go through the discipline of having to wait on the Lord and trust in him to get them through difficulties and provide for their needs.