Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Forgotten Gardener

Maybe this was obvious to everyone but me, but I think most of the talk about John 15:1-5 ignores God. Sound crazy? Here's the sort of thing I usually hear in discussion of John 15: our job (as branches) is to abide in the vine (Jesus), and he will produce fruit (love, justice, impact on people, etc.) through us; Jesus wants us to be fruitful and not useless branches. Then there is a good bit of talk about how we can go about abiding and what sorts of attitudes or behaviors that entails. So there's Jesus (the vine) and us (the branches).
The problem is, we have entirely flown past verse 1, which introduces the most important character in the metaphor: the gardener. Vinedresser, husbandman, viticulturist, whatever -- it's God the Father. This metaphor is ALL ABOUT HIM. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit . . ."

My wife, Kristin, has something of a green thumb. This past spring, she entered the wonderful world of vegetable gardening. Her lettuce and broccoli exploded into enourmous blossoms of wide, green leafyness. People would observe the bounty and correctly conclude that Kristin is an excellent gardener. The same is true of us and God. When we flourish, God beams with righteous pride, knowing that this success reveals his expert workmanship. That is the point of John 15, and that is the point of life. "To glorify God and enjoy him forever," as they say.
So what rides on this? Here's one thing -- when we think (as I often do) about whether we are abiding or flourishing in the vine and whether we are bearing (enough) fruit, let's not forget who is ultimately responsible for this. The Father-gardener. He is tenderly watching each branch, caring more about it than we ever could care about even ourselves, caressing it, pruning it, adjusting its position in order to see it grow and blossom. The Gardener's deep desire is to see his vine thrive, and he is able to bring it about.
I'm not saying that John 15 teaches only this idea, or that I've unearthed something new. I'm only suggesting that there isn't enough talk of the Gardener in expositions and meditations of John 15. So the next time you or I read or teach from that passage, maybe we can help alleviate the deficit.


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