He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.
John 15:2 CEB
The worker in the vineyard knows that, as the days are very short and nights are long and chill. now, is the time to go out into the vineyard to tackle last year’s unwieldy growth and prepare the vines for the coming season. The plants have entered a period of dormancy when it’s safe to take a clean, sharp blade to those branches which fruited so well last summer, and those branches which are growing from, or in, the wrong place.
Take a look at the examples in the images.
There are two sets of before and after pruning. The top examples are the ‘before’ images. The vineyard worker aims to leave two fruiting canes for the coming year’s crop and two, shorter growing spurs for the following year’s development. This illustrates how strategically the worker approaches the care of each individual plant; seeking to care not just for the current year’s harvest but future year’s growth as well. As the growing season moves on the worker will be busy tackling the rampant growth of the vine, ensuring that ‘energy’ is diverted to the swelling fruit and not just to longer branches.
Jesus uses the words above, captured in John 15, to communicate to his disciples the way in which God’s Kingdom is here and now, and how God sets about bringing fulness and fruitfulness into their lives. It would be all too easy just to focus on pruning. Don’t!
The imagery will be so common to these disciples, who will no doubt have had some experience of either growing vines, or harvesting them – that joyous event when the whole community gathers to pick the fruit at just the right time.
Jesus talks in very practical terms about the spiritual growth of the disciples. ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you.’ And he reminds them ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’ Simplifying things to such a degree that they cannot misunderstand their relationship to him.
Jesus talks about the impact on their lives of the words he has spoken to them, which he says have already had a ‘trimming’ effect. He explains ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.’ Here, Jesus emphasises the very intimacy that can grow between them and him. And what develops in this intimacy is that ‘what you want as an individual’ will be found to align with what Jesus wants to do in you. At the heart of each member of God’s Kingdom grows the desire to see God glorified by individual fruitfulness – which is seen as proof of being a disciple of Jesus.
Just as the branches cannot exist and be fruitful without the stem and rootstock, so disciples cannot be fruitful without a deepening intimacy with Jesus.
Just as the branches cannot exist without the supply of energy and nutrients supplied by the stem, rootstock and leaves, so disciples cannot be fruitful unless Kingdom life is graciously being poured into their lives.
Once we experience intimacy with Jesus, understand how he wants to transform our lives so they bear much fruit, and know his life is at work in us – we will be ready to leave behind those things which stifle our fruitfulness. So, when the trimming and pruning come, embrace them.