We Are the Branches
Gardeners know that, in order to grow healthy petunias, dead blossoms must be pinched off (dead-heading) in order to allow the plant’s energy to be directed toward new, healthy growth. In the rich and moving passage of John 15:1-17, Jesus used a horticultural image to lay out a fundamental understanding of the relationship between God, Jesus, and those who follow. Jesus is the vine and God is the vine-grower. Those who follow Jesus are the fruit-bearing branches of his vine. The fruit we bear is always a result of our love for and obedience to Christ.
Jesus said that the branches all have to be pruned, or cleansed, in order to further the process of producing fruit. (The same Greek root refers to both pruning and cleansing.) Jesus’ followers, he said, “Have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” The teachings of Jesus cut away the useless twigs that sap the productive energy of the branch.
As disciples of Jesus, our encounter with his word re-orders our lives, casting away the useless growth which does not serve to express our love for God in Christ. The ability to recognize the growth which needs to be cleaned off in the interest of bearing better fruit is a mark of a good steward.
- When have you been pruned or cleansed in order to reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ? How did it make you feel? Was it a positive experience?
- What are some of the extraneous, useless twigs you presently cling to?
- Reach John 15:13-15. Jesus assured the disciples of his love for them and affirmed that he had made clear everything he had received from God. How successful have you been in comprehending the word of God through Christ and allowing yourself to be formed by that word?
- What is the ultimate purpose of Christ’s teachings? (Hint: 15:17).
- If possible, take a look at your plants that are inside or out the house. Find one that needs “dead-heading” and begin to do so. As you do, reflect on the effect of this pruning on the plant. Or select a small tree or bush on the church property that needs cleansing. Prune it with a friend.
- Invite a knowledgeable gardener to talk to your church about the process of sacrificing the weaker limbs in order to allow important healthy growth.
- Many congregations attempt to do more things than they have adequate leadership or participants to support. Make a list of the programs carried on by your congregation. Are all of the programs central to the congregation’s sense of mission and ministry? What, if anything, might be diverting energy away from other, more important opportunities for bearing fruit?