It’s that time of year again! As if the average Lectionary-based, church-going Christian didn’t get enough sappiness with yesterday’s Good Shepherd Sunday, this week we have another pericope that begs to be made into a Thomas Kinkade painting. “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Inevitably, the preacher is tempted to talk about how it is that we, as disciples of Jesus, are to go about producing fruit. For those who tend to be more conservative, fruit will look like abstaining from such immoral acts as card playing, drinking, and driving your car without a “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper sticker. For those who tend to be more liberal, fruit will look like keeping away from such immoral acts as voting Republican, buying Thomas Kinkade paintings, and driving something other than a Toyota Prius. Moderates, being the good fence-sitter that they are, will tend to view fruit in any number of ways, including, but not limited to, keeping away from such immoral acts as smug self-righteousness, posturing, and looking down on those whose opinions differ from yours, all the while engaging in such by deriding the left and the right.
“Bear fruit” is an activity that one does, and so the temptation is invariably to turn Jesus’ words into a call to works righteousness, but let’s think more about the business of bearing fruit in the context of Jesus’ vine speech. The first item of note is that this is obviously a metaphor. Jesus is using a common image from 1st century Palestine to help people understand the relationship with God that is available through him. Metaphors always break down at some point, and we should be wary to push it too far. Second, we note that in this metaphor, Jesus is the vine, the main trunk through which water and nutrients flow, while we are simply the branches: the recipients of the works done by the vine. Third, Jesus goes on to say, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The fruit we produce doesn’t exist without the vine, and as branches, our one and only job is to stay attached so that through us, God can produce good fruit.
I’m thinking that I’ll preach on Acts 8, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch this week, but if I do opt for John 15, I promise I’ll do my best to avoid works righteousness. I hope you will too.