The Big Picture
The following story is based on Jesus’ own words in John 15 where he states “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit.” And later in verse five, to his disciples he says, “I am the vine. You are the branches.” With that in mind, read on.
There was a time when a vineyard owner was criticized for having only one Vine in his vineyard. But he replied, “I am the owner and this is the way I wish to do things.”
Well, one day the Vinedresser-Owner went to look at his plants to see how things were going. One particular branch of the Vine saw him coming and replied, “Look at my lovely tanned branches. Aren’t I beautiful?” The Vinedresser looked the branch over but saw only a few shriveled raisins. “Too busy seeking the sun I see.” He replied.
With that, he cut off the tanned branches and patched the wounds on the Vine. For you see, it hurt the Vine as well as the branch when he pruned. And he said, “I am the Vinedresser and every branch that bears no fruit, I cut off and those that bear fruit, I prune so they may bear more.”
He next looked at a beautiful, leafy branch and underneath it had overgrown twigs. It was the twig that spoke up and complained. “That branch sucks up all the sunshine. It isn’t fair that it should have such an advantage. It isn’t my fault I was put here.” The Vinedresser had heard enough and cut it off.
He then looked over the leafy branch on top. “What, no fruit?” he asked. “Look at these deep green leaves!” the branch boasted. “I’m not in the leaf business and neither are you.” replied the Owner. With that, he snipped the branch.
The Owner worked his way to the other side of the plant. And he was pleased with one of the branches he saw. It greeted him warmly. “Good morning Master. I’m glad to see you. As you can see, we’ve been busy.”
Busy indeed! The branch was filled with grapes. Huge bunches …everywhere. So many, in fact, that the branch was sagging under the weight. “We have 614 grapes so far and I’ve started another four clusters. Our charts show in another three weeks we’ll have another 117 grapes. Our goal is to be the heaviest bearing branch on the entire Vine.” But as he looked closer the Vinedresser noticed that the branch was pulling away from the Vine. He saw that a crack had begun to appear and was widening revealing some ugly fungus growing in the split. So he cut off that part.
Well now, the Vinedresser worked his way up the vine to where he heard an argument among several branches. “What is going on here?” he asked.
“Well,” said the branch with the red grapes. “Everyone knows that red grapes make the best wine.” “Not if you prefer white wine!” replied the branch with the white grapes. A branch with delicious black grapes cut in. “My grapes are so big and luscious they have to chomp on three of you just to make one of me.” The concord branch chimed in, “Yes, but my jelly is the preferred choice of millions of people to which the branch with the green grapes piped up, “You’re all so caustic. My sweetness is more than any of you will ever have.”
The Owner interrupted, “Did it ever occur to any of you that all of you are useful in what we are doing? It’s not about you.” And with that he cut off the part of the branches that enabled them to talk! “This self-focus is not helpful in our work?” And there was a muffled response. “Humfffumm.” And he said, “I am the Vinedresser and we are working on something together much bigger than any of you. We are producing eternal fruit.”
Then the Owner looked at his Vine. It was much cleaner, though covered with wounds from the pruning. Through the pain, the branches were beginning to get the picture. Then the Vine spoke to all the wounded branches, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me, you can do nothing. Abiding…that’s it. That’s your only job. The nourishment you draw from abiding produces the eternal fruit.”
“How did you learn this?” asked the branches. The Vine spoke quietly with pain in his voice.
“One time, a while ago, the Vinedresser pruned me all the way back until I was just a stump. The pain was beyond anything you could imagine. It looked to all like He killed me. Those in the other vineyards figured I was dead, but a shoot came out of the root of the stump. I grew into this Vine and the rest is history.
After a while, tiny little shoots began to emerge from the branches. Their voices were small, and for the first time, they didn’t all talk at once. And their first words, quietly spoken to the Vine were, “As you wish” (remember The Princess Bride, as you wish = I love you). And they lived happily forever after, abiding in the Vine.
In a working world where we are often measured by what we produce or in meeting our quotas, it is all too easy to protect our turf and fail to grasp the larger picture. We can easily forget the “abide in faith” part, not realizing that as we work, it is not ultimately about us, but about advancing God’s Kingdom on earth. The source of our skills, insights, and wisdom all come from abiding in the True Vine. You see, the work we do, is not ultimately about the work we do on earth, it’s about the eternal work the Vine produces through us.
Dr. Daniel Sharp is Minister of Worship Arts for First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.