Heinz Chapel -- University of Pittsburgh
5 minute sermon
In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus gives us an allegory. He talks about a vine, a gardener, and fruitful and unfruitful branches. In the story, the vine—the “true vine”—is Jesus. The gardener is the Father. The branches are those of us who are captivated by the God/man Jesus.
First, let’s talk about the “true vine.” In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as a vine. The psalmist declares God brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it in a good land (the Exodus). The prophet Isaiah wrote a song about God’s vineyard. Hosea spoke of God finding Israel like grapes in the wilderness, but something always went wrong. In another Psalm, foreigners pillage God’s vineyard and wild beasts uproot it. Again in Isaiah, the vine that should have borne good fruit bore bad fruit instead. This quick glance at the various passages reveals, interestingly enough, that Israel is consistently described as a fruitless or “degenerate vine.”
Thus in referring to himself as the “true vine,” Jesus is calling himself the “true and faithful Israel.” He obeyed his Father’s commands and as a result he remained in his Father’s love and was complete in joy.
Second, let’s talk about the gardener. In this allegory what does the Father do? Two things. 1. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit. And 2. He “prunes” or he “cleans” the branches that do bear fruit so that they will be even more fruitful. Now concerning #1, I don’t think this passage is saying that Christians can fall away from God. I think he’s talking about those who are initially curious but quickly lose interest and never put their trust in Jesus. As for group #2, notice that even the fruitful branches are not flawless, they have not “arrived” so to speak. They need to be pruned or cleansed anew, which means even these branches are not perfect.
What then is Jesus saying here? What is the main point of this passage? Jesus is saying that the Christian life necessarily involves fruitfulness. Transformation or—a big word—progressive sanctification is the inevitable result for those who have been united with Christ.
The whole point of a vineyard is fruitfulness, but Jesus makes it clear that we can produce no fruit apart from him, on our own. Thus, we are to abide in Christ to the glory of God the Father showing ourselves to be disciples.
But that’s not all. Verse 11 reveals a pivotal truth that must not be overlooked. Jesus says. “I have told you this [allegory] so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The reason for Jesus’ little story is not to impress upon us an arbitrary, taxing burden, but to show us that obedience to God’s commands also result in joy, and not just any joy, but completed joy. He is trying to show us that the way of life, the way of joy, the way of freedom, is to live as Adam was intended to live. The way Israel was intended to live. The way Jesus, the “true vine,” the “new Israel,” did live: A life that will fill us with joy, contentment, and completeness, in the midst of a world full of pain, suffering, and tragedy.
Jesus, the one who forgives 70 times 7 times (which does not mean 490 times but an infinite # of times), calls us to radical obedience because it is the best way to live. It is the way of light and life and in it there is no darkness at all.