Jesus says that he is the vine, we are the branches. It is a powerful metaphor, that is to say, it is an image that invites us to explore deeper realms of meaning.
It speaks to me first of all of life. We think of the sap, the juice of life, coursing through a vast vine, from its gnarled trunk to its new, green tendrils. This is us. The life within us is Christ himself. There is no place where our life ends and his begins. The life-force of the Saviour flows gently throughout his people, like the sap of the vine. This includes the most important elements of our life: our work, our recreation, our loves, even our struggles and disappointments. Christ is with us in these things, inviting us to be fruitful, gently encouraging us, his grace prompting us always towards that which is good.
Remember that in the scriptures that Jesus knew, the vine was a symbol of prosperity and fruitfulness. Moreover, Israel was typically described as being the vineyard of the Lord (eg Jeremiah 2.21, Hosea 10.1). This life within us is directed towards an end, just as the life within a vine will yield a harvest of fruit bursting with juice. So Jesus in the parable of the vine encourages us, as we hear today, to think of ourselves as capable of bearing fruit in plenty.
Think of this for a moment. Much of our spirituality is focussed on getting us to realise how much we are miserable sinners. But this is only part of the picture. Sinners or not, we are those Christ bonds to himself in the great vine, and he not only asks us to bear his fruit, but believes that we can do it. If he believes in us who are we to deny that this is possible? The answer, I suspect, is to begin where we are: with our commitments, our responsibilities, our skills and gifts, and yes, also our hopes and our dreams. If we are in Christ then these things can be opened to his love and his presence, and we can ask that they may be the place where with his blessing we bear good fruit. As we hear today in the first letter of St John, ‘love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active’.
One last thought on the image of ourselves as the vine. It speaks of patience. Jesus, as we know, had a keen eye. He seems to have noted a good deal about the realities of agriculture, and he would have known that those who plant a vineyard do not expect to be reaping a harvest the next year. It takes years for a vine to grow to full maturity. God gives us time. We have a lifetime in which to grow to maturity in Christ and to bear his fruit. But we don’t have time to waste. There should be an urgency sometimes about our desire to live fruitfully our life in Christ. I think of a story I heard about the late General de Gaulle when he was president of France. He proposed a course of action which appalled the senior civil servants who were tasked with drawing up the plans for its implementation. ‘Monsieur le Président’ they protested, ‘what you are asking will take a lifetime to achieve.’ His reply was succinct: ‘All the more reason for starting straight away!’