Summary: Jesus bids us to a fruitful life by pointing out the importance of abiding in Him and His Word
Easter 5 B
Staying Connected to the Vine
“Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
Have you ever had one of those weeks where no matter what you do, nothing ever seems to go right? Try as you may, you just can’t seem to accomplish anything.
Last week was one of those weeks for me. Nothing went as I had planned. It seemed like every time I started something I ended up banging my end against a wall that was constantly getting in my way.
And then I picked up the lesson for today and knew why. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I was in such a rush to get my things done, that I had forgotten to stop and fuel up. I was going on my strength and not on his. I was so fixed on my agendas that I hadn’t taken the time to remind myself of His. I hadn’t sought Him in prayer. I hadn’t remained tied to Him and His word. And I have a feeling, that’s exactly where the disciples were at too.
There’s no direct indication of it, but their recent past suggests that the likelihood was high. Afterall, most of their agenda with Jesus wasn’t being all that fulfilled. Jerusalem is probably the last place they thought Jesus should go. That’s where the Jewish authorities were. That’s where there were some that would just as soon see Jesus put away. That’s where Jesus, himself, had said that he would go to meet with rejection, cruel suffering, bitter dying and death. He was heading for the cross. He was talking about leaving this world behind. On top of that there were the strange lessons that he was teaching – lessons about greatness in being like a child or the value of humble service as he had shown by washing their feet that very night. All their grandiose ideas of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, all their hopes and dreams of conquest over the Romans, all of their thoughts of sitting at Jesus’ left and right in some kingdom of earthly might, all their ideas and agendas kept running into road blocks. Their relationship with Jesus at this point had to be somewhat contentious. One disciple had already betrayed him. Another would soon deny him. The rest would forsake him as they were unsure about what he was teaching, as they wondered about where He was leading them, and questioned what he was doing to them.
Even now the questions were whizzing around in their heads. “Surely it is not I Lord?” I would never betray you. None of us would. We’d all die with you. “Lord, I’m ready to go to prison with you and to death” (Luke 22:33) Lord, what do you mean that you’re going and that we know the way? “We don’t where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) “What does He mean when He says that in a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me?” or that He is “going to the Father”? (John 16:17).
You see? Nothing happens haphazardly with our Lord. Some just think of Jesus walking along and casting his eye on some vines, he comes forth with a lesson of truth. But all of this is happening within the context of real people with real concerns, real thoughts, real feelings, real needs. And Jesus knew that they needed most. He knew what they were lacking. He knew what needed to be filled.
On top of that He knew what was coming. He knew that His disciples were looking to their own designs, trusting their own ideas, tied more closely to their own agendas; that they weren’t as close to Him as they needed to be. And He knew that they were about to be pruned as well.
The Greek word used for pruning in the text is KATHAIRW and this is the only use of the word in the entire NT. But it shares a common root with a number of other terms within the NT, words like KATHARZW and KATHAROTES which refer to cleansing and purification. Quite literally the word would reference a vinedresser cutting a vine “clean” of all its dead wood; the clearing away of wasted vegetation, in order to help a branch concentrate its growth on its most productive parts.
Spiritually speaking Jesus is talking about the Heavenly Father trimming back His people; that is, clearing out the sinful, selfish, and self-reliant attitudes that are holding them back, correcting their errant ideas about what it meant for Jesus to be the Savior and strengthening their trust and reliance upon Him. It’s a process that can be painful as we face the consequences of our actions, as we’re brought to admit how we’ve been wrong, as we let go of our own plans and lives and give them into His hands.