It’s grape season and I made some juice and jam from grapes that we picked recently. Grape-picking is fun (and easy). It’s an opportunity to not only admire the vineyards from afar but to actually walk in between rows of grapevines, armed with a pair of shears to snip bundles of sweet-smelling concord grapes. It is one of the few occasions that I would come that close to the vine. Close enough to pay attention and marvel at its strength, stability and sufficiency, as networks of branches with huge clusters of fruit emanate from it.
John 15:1 Jesus said I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.
I am the true vine. Could it mean that there are false vines? Certainly we must have relied on some of them at some point, whether they be our own self, others or anything that is not Christ. I don’t mean we should never trust other people ever, but I believe that this passage, which is one of the most significant I AM declarations from our Savior, spoken shortly before his suffering and death, tells us clearly that we are absolutely dependent on Christ and the identity that we have been given is that of a branch attached to the vine. That is who we are. We can cling to our delusions that we can manage our lives as independent self-supporting vines; but this only leads us to a path of destruction. We cannot bear fruit apart from the vine.
“I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:5
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” In an all about me society, I don’t think this quote from John 15:5 will sell very well as a bumper sticker or as a cover page of a yearly planner. I found myself in the stationery section of Home Goods not too long ago and I came across some planners for 2020 with “You Got This, Girl”, “Make Magic Happen Everyday”, “You are Awesome”, “She Believed She Could So She Did”, etc on the cover. I get the motive. People want to be positive, encouraging, uplifting. But as long as the focus is on the self, it is destined for failure. Good intentions must be based on truth. And the truth is, we are not the vine. Jesus is. We are not and will never be the source of life or strength. He is. We do not bear fruit by thinking positively or working efficiently because our fruitfulness depends entirely on who our vine is. Jesus didn’t say apart from him we can do little. He said apart from me you can do nothing. That moment of grace when our eyes are unblinded to this truth and the deceptive scales of self-sufficiency are shed off – that is perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in our Christian walk.
That Christ is our True Vine ought to give us comfort and courage. If we are unsettled by it or are doubtful of its power to change our lives, then we need to come to the vineyard of prayer. Maybe we have been admiring The Vine from a distance. Let’s come closer for a long hard gaze at Jesus Christ. Let’s study his word and listen as he speaks. Even common sense tells us it’s harder to hear from afar. We need to abide, to be attached, in order to receive the life that the True Vine alone can give. Like sap that flows from the vine to the branch (and never the other way around), his grace and truth will sustain us as we rest in him and we discover that there is indeed no better place. There is not a better Savior. The Vine that holds me loves me, and he is enough for me.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17