In today’s gospel reading Jesus once again declares that “I am the true vine and my Father is the true vine grower.” In His discussion Jesus again emphasizes the necessity that the vine be pruned to bear an abundance of fruit, and he again mentions that His disciples had been pruned by His word. The first reading of the day includes a discussion on the necessity of new Christian’s requirement to follow Mosaic Law, and the law in question is circumcision. Jewish disciples favor continuing adherence to their laws, while Paul questions the need to be obedient to the laws of the old covenant. There was much discussion amongst the members of the various churches. The laws of circumcision are but one of the laws that will be challenged by these first disciples of Christ.
When Jesus tells his disciples that they had been pruned by his word, his gospel, which does include obedience to Jewish law. Many times the Pharisees had challenged Jesus regarding his obedience to those laws, one example would be His healing on the Sabbath. Jesus in His ministry frequently pruned those laws by being obedient only to those laws that were fruitful in bringing about that kingdom he preached. His challenges to those laws are continued by his disciples, they remain true to his teachings.
This time when reading this discourse on “I am the true Vine” and whole reading about the pruning of the vine, I decided not to take an allegorical approach to these readings. Instead I took a botanical approach to these readings, tried to discern the nature of those vines Jesus spoke about. I then decided to learn how to prune them. Rather than consult the literature of a theologian, I consulted the books of the master gardeners. When Jesus says I am the true vine, I have to believe He is speaking of the grape vine. That vine is one of the culturally significant vines in history.It has particular significance to the Israelites. The grape vine was the symbol of their nation. Jesus could have picked many plants that require pruning. He could have picked the fig trees or those of the olive orchards, or the citrus orchards. Many fruit bearing plants need pruning to increase their harvest. Jesus though picked the vine.
In reading about pruning a grape vine, I learned that the first step is to remove all but one or two branch sprouts. The goal of the first pruning is to establish the vines base, and also to develop a couple of vertical branches or canes. These canes will eventually reach towards the horizontal supports that the part of the vine that holds the fruit will anchor against.
How interesting is the structure the properly pruned grape vine takes, and how interesting is the skill of the vineyard owner? Around the woods in the North East are many grape vines, but they do not resemble the shape of the well trained vine. They do not bear the same abundant fruit either. Pruning a grape vine takes time, these groomed vines are formed or structured. Jesus disciples were formed through Jesus teachings, we are formed in the Church also. That is the purpose of Catechesis. The second part of the pruning process that I noticed was that horizontal fruiting wire, the well-formed vine travels along both a horizontal and vertical path. Within the well-formed vine is the basic form of a cross, a cross that bears much fruit. The strongest cane supports those that reach towards the sky. The fruiting wire supports the horizontal fruit bearing branches. In Christ’s cross the vertical beam commonly describes the relationship between God and man. The horizontal beam describes that relationship between mankind. Interesting that this basic structure is present in the vine.
In an orchard each tree maintains its own unique identity. Though orchard trees require their own skillful pruning, the orchard has a different structure than the vineyard. With the vineyard each of those horizontal branches that travel along the fruiting wire become intertwined. Though each plant might start out individually, they all become one vineyard. They become one vine. Jesus Church takes the form of a vineyard, and not an orchard. When the apostles discuss Mosaic Law and its role in the new Christian Church, they do not discuss that separately in each individual community. They travel amongst all of the churches trying to discern the truth. They do not remain individual churches, each with their own distinct identity, but one Church of Christ. Every church, and every parish, and every diocese of Christ’s true Church is intertwined. They form the one true Church. Gone is nationalism, and that nationalism is replaced with a journeying towards the kingdom of God. There is a to to be learned from those grapevines, and from the way these plants are cultivated. It seems thee is good reason Jesus used them when He said ” I am the vine.”