John 15:1-8 | 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Crushed Grapes in the Dirt
This passage made me think of a Sicilian vineyard we visited several years ago. It wasn’t a particularly wealthy estate, but the rows of grapevines were vast and meticulously tended. We wandered through the innumerable tangles of varieties, each slightly different in color, texture, or size, for hours one sunny afternoon, a sweet, mangy dog Luna at our heels.
The world is just that—a tangle of people, most of us sweet but mangy and nipping at something slightly inappropriate, and though we may not look it, each of us is meticulously tended by the Father. Just like grapes, people come in an infinite variety and often it’s the mix that produces the most interesting, yet most challenging, fruit.
Vineyards, we learned, are a lot of work, and much of that happens behind the scenes. I imagine God feels the same about us—we’re a lot of work, and He’s always laying groundwork that we don’t see. What we do see isn’t always pretty. When the plant doesn’t produce grapes, it must be cut back, way back, sometimes to the nub. The process can be painful to witness, particularly if the plant otherwise appeared healthy. Years seem to have been wasted on that plant, and it may take even more years for the pruning to result in fruit. Similarly, because we don’t see the groundwork, when God finally acts in or for us, it can seem ugly and painful. But somehow the pain is necessary. God wants us to be fruitful; He needs us.
As I pictured Jesus in the vineyard that afternoon, which happened to be Easter Sunday, I remembered a few grapes that had fallen and been crushed into the paths. The juice stains in the dirt physically tie Jesus to each of us. If Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches (v.5), the grapes, that which produce His blood, grow from us, just as we get our nourishment from Him. He needs us in order to produce fruit, and we need Him for the same reason. Without the vine, the branches are nothing more the firewood. We may look healthy, but unless we receive our sustenance from the vine, our fruit is either flavorless or non-existent. But, when we depend on the vine and allow growth from our pruning or cross-pollination, the results are more stunning than anything we could imagine. The mangiest, most imperfect of us can flourish in the most unexpected ways.
Vine growers like the Father (v.1) know each plant intimately despite our tangle of humanity. One plant’s pruning may not only help that one to regenerate and also provide an adjacent plant with additional nutrients or sunshine, thus strengthening the entire crop. In the crushed grapes, the blood stains we all wear, Easter points to the reality of our meticulously orchestrated, and interdependent, salvation history.