The image of the vine was very significant across the history of Israel. It is used as a symbol of all that was good about Israel – the fruitfulness and capacity to enjoy life in all its fullness – but also of all that had gone wrong across her history. For example in Psalm 80, the image is of the vine that was brought from Egypt and planted in the good soil of Israel, to be watered, pruned and nurtured – but which had been allowed to be overrun by thorns and briars, and the protective wall that surrounded the vineyard to be broken down. Vines were common across Israel and Palestine – but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to grow. Given the mountainous terrain, the land has to be terraced, and the soil cleansed in preparation for the planting. For the first few years of its life, a young vine needs to be carefully pruned and cultivated so that it will be capable of bearing the heavy weight of the fruit in future years. The branches of a vine do not all bear fruit. The branches that do not bear fruit need to be pruned more carefully away during the colder winter months, so you need to be attentive to the vine during the summer to know which branches are good and which need to be pruned later on. The wood that is cut away from the vine is not very useful. It is too soft to be worked with, and it was not acceptable in the temple as a wood offering, because it would burn too quickly to be used in the altars. So it is only good for collecting together to be burnt in a bonfire.

All of this provides a helpful background for the images that Jesus uses when he calls himself the true vine. God wants his people to be fruitful – but the only way that this can happen is through being connected to the intimacy of life that God offers.

Easter, Sunday 5B. John 15:1-8.

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