Jesus said, I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Scripture is overgrown with vines, all of them references to Gods people. The psalmist speaks of Gods people as a vine that God brought out of Egypt and planted, so that it took deep roots and filled the land (Psalm 80:8-16). According to the prophet Jeremiah, God calls Gods people a choice vine from the purest stock, that turned degenerate and became a wild vine (2:21). In Ezekiel, God threatens to dispose of Gods people as easily as we toss vine branches into the fire as fuel (15:1-8). For Isaiah (5:1-7), the vine becomes a vineyard; the prophet relates both the loving care with which God planted a vineyard and the anger with which God intends to destroy it. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus enters the vineyard as the son sent to collect his fathers share of the produce, whom the tenants kill in order to keep the vineyard for themselves (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). Scripture makes clear that, no matter how lovingly and carefully God plants the vine that is Gods people, when left to ourselves, things go terribly wrong.
Jesus says, I am the true vine (John 15:5). For those who know that the vine of Gods people inevitably grows wild, Jesus declaration is the good news that, in Christ, God does not lovingly and carefully plant us, and then leave us to our own devices. Jesus is the vine through whom God sends Gods people grace, life, nourishment, and ability to bear fruit. Jesus is the stem in which we who are the branches find fulfillment and life. Our relationship with Christ, which is as connected as branches are to a vine, gives us a share in Christs very life, the faith community that is Christs people, and the fruits of discipleship, service, and justice, which are Christs own works.
Christ the vine nourishes the branches within Christian community. A vine with a single branch looks silly, even sickly. Such a vine certainly does not produce much fruit. When Jesus calls himself the true vine, and his people the branches, Jesus reminds us that grace, faith, Christian love and service come to us in and through community. When we remember that Jesus called himself the true vine on the night when he was betrayed, we might recall the Lords Supper and the cup of the fruit of the vine that we share in remembrance of Christ.
Christ comes to us when we open Gods Word together in the same way that Christ comes to us when we share the bread and cup in his name. As a faith community reads, prays over, and studies Scripture together, Christ the vine provides the branches with all that we need to abide in Christ and bear much fruit. Christians report that they vividly recognize Christ working in and through Scripture when they break open Gods Word with people they do not do well or with people whose experience is different from their own, and when they read their Bibles in unexpected places at work, in a restaurant or listening to the Bible while driving. Jesus promises to be the true vine, through whom we have life and bear much fruit. Opening Scripture together, like Holy Communion, is one way that Jesus keeps this promise.
Craig A. Satterlee teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Illinois.
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