John 15:1-8

I miss having a garden, although it tended to be mostly taking a pair of secateurs and chopping things back before they took over the entire space. Nowadays I garden as a volunteer at the National Trust place where I used to work, and some weekends being Head Gardener at my husband’s house. There’s still a lot of cutting back, but with different approaches. At Woolsthorpe I’m chopping down rampaging blackberry tendrils full of thorns at eye-level around the orchard, just waiting to tear unwary arms, legs and children’s faces. I’m doing this because I care about the humans.

 

At Paul’s, I’m looking after a fan-shaped apple tree, which sat unhappily in a pot for two years before we hauled it out last summer and put it into the ground. I’ve built a frame and tied it in carefully, and – yes – cut it back here and there. This, though, isn’t random chopping – I take time, looking carefully, tracing where the branches are leading, taking away spindly arms to leave space and for others to grow strong and healthy. This work of pruning is completely different – after last year’s upheaval and cutting back, how anxiously I waited to see signs of life and growth, how delighted I was to see photos of it coming away strongly. Maybe this year there’ll be apples?

 

So when Jesus, in his final discourse to his disciples (John places this at the Last Supper), used the image of the branching vine, needing to be pruned and nurtured to produce its good fruit, it would be familiar to his disciples. How they understood his words when they were still coming to terms with who he was. is another question – but  by the end of this chapter, they are able to acknowledge that he comes from God.

 

Jesus told his disciples that they were the branches, joined to the vine which is himself and since then Christians have applied that imagery to themselves. If we take to heart the words of Jesus, becoming part of the vine, we may find ourselves being ‘pruned’ as we try to live in the love to which we are called. The idea of pruning might be alarming (in the case of rampaging blackberry bushes, rather brutal), but when the Father prunes the vine, he’s cutting back a plant that he loves, that he watches carefully and wills to flourish. The Second Reading today shows us how gentle this is, how we can live in God, and God in us. Like the Good Shepherd, the Good Gardener knows his branches, and his branches respond to him.

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