Jesus - The True Vine
Fr. Thomas Hopko · January 11, 2010
Fr. Tom explores the last of the "I Am" statements in St. John's Gospel.
As we continue to reflect on the names and titles of Jesus, we come to what I believe, if I have counted correctly, is the last of the specific “I Am” statements that we find in the Gospel of Saint John.
We saw how in the Gospel of Saint John you have Jesus using the expression “I Am” for Himself, which we connect with the name that God gave to Moses. And then we saw a number of them that he speaks of with a predicate nominative: I Am the light of the world, I Am the way, I Am the truth, I Am the life, I Am the resurrection, I Am the good shepherd, I Am the door of the sheepfold, the door of the sheep, I Am the Bread of Life.
Well, now we want to reflect on what comes again from Saint John’s Gospel—they all come from Saint John’s Gospel—and that is the I Am statement about being the true vine.
We find it in the fifteenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel and it is within the context of that long discourse in the gospel that, according to the gospel narrative, Jesus pronounces at the final supper with His disciples. It is a kind of catechetical oration, a theological catechetical oration, given in the context of the supper, that when they were together at the table in the thirteenth chapter, Judas leaves, you have that expression “and it was night,” and then it says when Judas had gone out, Jesus said “Now is the Son of Man glorified and in Him God is glorified.”
And then Jesus gives this long discourse that ends at the end of the seventeenth chapter. It is very long. And for Orthodox Christians we know that this is what is read at the first of the passion gospels on Great and Holy Friday, which is served in the Orthodox Church usually on the eve of Friday, namely Thursday night. It is the matins of Friday, where you have twelve gospel readings put into the matins service.
So this is the context. This is where Jesus has this I Am statement. And actually it is the only statement that is within this discourse. All of them are found elsewhere, especially those that have this predicate nominative. The last one is in the eleventh chapter, “I Am the resurrection and the life.” However, in this final discourse you do have Jesus saying, “I have come as a light into the world,” which, of course, that is said twice earlier, “I Am the light of the world.” And then you do have Jesus speaking about himself as, “I Am.”
For example, in the thirteenth chapter, he says, “I tell you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place, you may believe that I Am.” And what He is telling them is what is going to happen to Him, what is going to happen to him in His passion.
But then when you get to the fifteenth chapter, you have, just very abruptly, He is speaking about love and the commandment of love and He is speaking about the Holy Spirit coming, the Counselor, the Spirit of Truth, the New Commandment. And then it even says at the end of the fourteenth chapter, “Rise, let us go hence,” and it seems as though he is finished speaking and they are going to leave. But then you have the sentences about “I Am the true vine.” And it continues in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth chapters, so you have three more chapters.
Of course, there is always that question that is raised about the historicity. Did Jesus actually say all this at that time? Are they His words that are put into His mouth as they are crafted in the gospel? And my own opinion—just to share my opinion—I believe that these are the sayings of Jesus that come from the earliest church and the memory of the church, from the apostles themselves. They are homilies, so to speak, about who He is and how He relates to God the Father, how He relates to the Holy Spirit.
And they are probably put together in this long extended discourse at the supper for good reason, for good evangelical, homiletical, symbolical reason. The same way that you would have in Matthew’s gospel of the Sermon on the Mount put together in three chapters, which you might say was probably not said that way, in that exact manner, but they are the words of Jesus and they are crafted together in a literary form for the sake of the contemplation of the faithful within the church.
But in any case, this is what we have about the vine. I will read it from the Revised Standard Version. The chapter begins, “I Am the true vine.” And it is nice always to hear how it would sound in the original Greek. It is again, ego eimi. You have the “I Am,” which is there all the time. But this would be ego eimi e ampelos e alethine. Ampelos is “vine” and alethine is “true.” So I Am the genuine vine, I Am the true vine. Then He continues. “And my Father is the vine dresser.” The vine keeper, He is the one who takes care of the vine. So, in a sense, Jesus is saying that God His Father is taking care of Him, is cultivating Him, is nurturing Him, is tending to Him as a vine keeper, as a husbandman—as it says in the King James, the georgos, the agricultural manager—is taking care of this vine. Then He says, “Every branch”—and that term branch is going to be a very important one, too—“Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He”—meaning God the Father—“takes away. And every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Now this pruning is something really scary, that God the Father is pruning the vine, Jesus is the vine, we are the branches from Him and that God the Father is pruning us that we would bear much fruit. And of course, the imagery of the vine bearing fruit, it means the fruit—as John the Baptist will say, as we will see in a second—fruit befitting righteousness, fruit worthy of repentance. Or as Saint Paul will say, the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love and peace and joy and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and fidelity and, in general, all of the attributes and virtues of God himself. This is the fruit that we have to bear.
So it says that if there is a branch that does not bear fruit, God the Father takes it away, he cuts it away. But if it is a good fruit-bearing branch, He prunes it, He cuts it, lacerates it, that it might bear more fruit. And here I cannot resist saying how this kind of rather violent imagery about God’s activity with us, it is very common in Holy Scripture. When we think that God is love and God is loving us, when you read the images of how God treats us in the bible, you can really call it more than tough love. You have got to call it severely, violently divine love that God is loving us with.
For example, in the Holy Scripture, God as love is compared to a loving father who chastens his children, who disciplines his son and does a pedagogy on him. And that even implies using the rod when necessary and really being chastening in a very disciplining fashion. And of course in the letter to the Hebrews it even says, “What kind of father is it who would not discipline his son?” If we are not disciplined by God then we are illegitimate children. The King James Version could use another word there for an illegitimate child and not a real child of God, a real son of God.
And then, of course, you have the other images in scripture that the loving God is the potter who smashes the vessel and refashions it with his own hands to make a vessel fit for bearing the grace of God. He is a jeweler who burns the gold and burns out all of the impurities. He is also a lover who wounds the beloved, and so on.
So you have these rather violent images, and here we have today the image of the vine dresser, the vine keeper, the husbandman as it says in King James, who prunes the vines. So what we have so far are these words—“I Am the true vine. My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Then it continues. “You are already made clean by the Word which I have spoken to you.” That sentence is very important, that the Word of God scrubs us, the Word of God cleanses us, the Word of God even lacerates us. In Hebrews, it says that “the Word of God is a two-edged sword, cutting to the bones and the marrow, the joints and the ligaments.” Saint John Chrysostom says we go to church to hear the words of God and the Psalms to be lacerated, that God would cut out all that is no good in us and all of those malignant tumors that are in us, just to make us healthy.
So it says, “You are made clean by the Word which I have spoken to you.” God’s Word is a cleansing word, a purifying word, a purging word. Then He says, “Abide in Me, and I in You.” So you remain in me, and I remain in you. And that word can even be remain, dwell, abide, permanently. “I in you and you in Me.” And we will have that “I in Thee” and “Thou in Me” very often, especially at the end of this discourse in the seventeenth chapter where Jesus says that He abides in God the Father, God the Father abides in Him, and then He abides in us and we abide in Him.
And therefore, He is the center through which we abide in God, because God is in Him and we are in Him and we are united in Him with God himself. So he says, “Abide in me and I in you.”
Then he says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.” So He says a branch cannot be fruit-bearing unless it is hooked on to the vine. And we cannot be fruit-bearing unless we are hooked on to Him, unless we are grafted into Him.
And again, the apostle Paul uses the imagery of grafting. For example, in the letter to the Romans, he speaks about the gentiles being grafted into the stock, into the vine, of Israel. Israel is the original vine that God has planted. We will see that in a second. But then that vine that God has planted is reduced ultimately to one person, Jesus of Nazareth. He becomes the sole vine. So the gentiles are grafted to Israel and therefore are grafted to the Messiah, grafted to Christ, and then they can bear fruit.
So he says he, “Abide in me and I in You. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.” So we must abide in Him to bear fruit.
Then He continues, “I Am the vine.” And then you have that again, ego eimi. “I Am the vine.” It is an “I Am” sentence. “I Am the vine. You are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So he is saying the same thing another way, positively now. Before He says, unless you abide in me you bear no fruit. But He says if you do abide in me and I abide in you, then you are a person who bears much fruit.
And then you have this very important parenthetical phrase. “For”—because, since—“apart from Me, you can do nothing. “Apart from Me”—without me, unless you are grafted into Me—“you can do nothing.”
And I cannot help but remember when I say that sentence, that I read years ago Saint Augustine commenting on this. St. Augustine made the point, very forcefully. He said, “Jesus did not say, ‘Without Me you can do a little, without Me you can produce some things, without Me, you can have certain achievements, you can have certain fruits, you can have certain successes.’” Well, that is not what Jesus says here. He says here very, very clearly, “Apart from Me you are not able to do anything at all,” is what it says literally. You are unable, you have no power. dynamis, you have, no strength to do anything within, nothing. Without Me, apart from Me, you can do nothing. Not a little bit, not some things, but nothing.
But then it says, “If a person does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and he withers. And the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and they are burned.” That is a violent imagery. The branches that are fruitless are cut down and they are burned.
We also have Jesus using the same imagery in the synoptic gospels where there is that fig tree he sees that has no fruit on it, and the apostles say let us dig it and plant and let it stay another year and maybe it will bring forth fruit. But there is that awful, terrifying case where Jesus curses the fruitless fig tree, and he says, “Let no fruit ever come on you again.”
And then, of course, we know that Jesus has many parables about the vineyard where the workers do not bear fruit and are cast out of the vineyard by the owner, or keep the fruits for themselves and not for God and their neighbors. They are cast out. You know those parables so I will not repeat them, but look them up. Read them again, all those parables of the vineyard, where the vine keeper is God and we are hired to work in the vineyard and we are told to bear fruit. Then there is the terrifying sentence also that when the workers in the vineyard do not bear fruit, the vineyard is given to somebody else. God takes the vineyard away from them and gives it to those who will bear fruit, because He wants fruit from his vine. We will speak about that again in a few seconds.
But here you have Him saying very, very clearly, “If a person does not abide in me, He is cast forth as a branch and withers.” And the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Now John the Baptist, in Matthew and Luke, when he began preaching the coming of Jesus, he used exactly the same imagery. I will read it to you from Matthew’s version of the story of the gospel. It says:
When John the Baptist saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our Father.’ For I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.’”
And don’t forget, that is exactly what the leaders of the people said in the eighth chapter to Jesus in Saint John’s gospel. “We have Abraham as our father.” And Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” They said, “We have Moses and the Law.” Jesus said, “If you had Moses, why don’t you follow him then? If you had Moses, you would know who I am. And you would know that I Am the seed of Abraham, too.” So even here, He says, “Do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
And of course, the gentiles become children of Abraham in Christ. In the new covenant, the princes of the nations stand as children of Abraham. It was predicted in the Psalter. In fact, that was such a strong saying that some translations used to say, “They will stand with the children of Abraham.” But as a matter of fact, it says in the psalm, “They will stand as children of Abraham.” They will have exactly the same status.
Then it continues in Matthew, “Even now, the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit, is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And then he speaks about the chaff and the wheat, and the wheat being kept and the chaff being burned.
So you have John the Baptist using the same imagery. “The ax is laid to the root of the tree. The tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and burned in the fire.” So it is exactly what we have here in John. And you have this elsewhere, too. You have also Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke speaking about only a good tree can bear good fruit. And you do not get thorns and thistles from an olive tree, a fig tree. You have to get figs. You have to get the right fruit. And it is very important that we have to be fruit-bearing.
And by the way, I will just interrupt myself here to mention how the church fathers play with that imagery also. They say that fruit-bearing trees are very humble. The kind of trees that bear fruit, they are all bent over and their branches are close to the ground, and the leaves that are on them are necessary for the fruit. Fruitless trees usually have very beautiful leaves and they are very tall and they reach very high, but they do not have any fruit. And the holy fathers go on and say the leaves are not what God is interested in. What God is interested in, is the fruit. And then they go even further and they would say, in our spiritual life, our ascetical efforts—like praying, fasting, reading the bible, keeping vigil, doing prostrations—and also church services—singing psalms, going to church, singing the hymns, saying the prayers—the holy fathers say that is all leaves. And you have to have leaves. Leaves are very important. You do not have any fruit bearing trees that do not have leaves on them. You have to have leaves.
But if you only have leaves, then you are condemned, then you are burned up, then you are fruitless, you are good for nothing. Now, you need the leaves to have the fruit, but you have to have the fruit. And it is the fruit that God is interested in, not the leaves. So the trees may have beautiful leaves and they may be very tall, but if they have no fruit, they are cut down and, according to this imagery, they are thrown into the fire.
So, what we had here already, he says this, “If a person does not abide in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown in to the fire, and burned. If you abide in Me and My words abide in you,” he continues, “ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you.”
Now, this is important, because there are some people who think we can ask God anything we want and He will do it. That is not true. According to the scripture, that is not true. You can only ask God for things that you can ask in Jesus’ name. Now, to ask a thing of God in Jesus’ name does not simply mean to tack on, “In the name of Jesus, we ask this, O Lord,” and then He will give it to you.
Now some people think that is the case. They even end every prayer with, “In Jesus name, we ask Thee Lord.” But that formula, “In nomine Jesu”, is a traditional formula in western Christianity. It does not exist in the east. At least, I do not know where it exists at all in the eastern prayers. We do not use that expression, “We ask this in Jesus’ name.” Because the usual interpretation is that, “In Jesus’ name” does not mean a formula that you tack onto a petition in order to make sure that God gives it to you. “In Jesus’ name” means, “according to Jesus, according to His teaching.” And for our purposes right now, we could say it means, “Whatever I can ask, as being grafted into Jesus, as being a branch of which He is the vine.” Then I can ask anything in that condition, in that situation, and God will give it.
So what you actually have here, it says, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will.” But the condition is, “If you abide in Me and if I abide in you, and if My words are abiding in you, if you are doing them, if you are keeping My words.” Then you can ask anything that is compatible with that and it will be yours.
However, of course, there are many things that are not compatible with the name of Jesus . A branch that is grafted on to Jesus as the vine cannot ask, “I want a Cadillac, a Lexus and five beautiful women, or men, for carnal pleasures.” You can’t ask that. In fact, according to the Sermon on the Mountain, we are supposed to seek only the things of the Kingdom of God and believe that God will give us everything else as well. We are not even supposed to ask for those things. We are supposed to only ask for things that are according to the Kingdom of God, according to Christ as the vine, in the name of Jesus, our Messiah Savior.
So, he says it here very clearly. “If you abide in me”—that is the condition—“and if My words abide in you”—that is the condition—“ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you.”
Then he continues, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” So the proof that we are disciples of Christ is by our fruits. In fact, in the synoptic gospel, Jesus says very clearly, “By their fruits you will know them.” You will know them by their fruits.
Now we already mentioned in passing, now let us look at it more specifically, what are those fruits? Those fruits are very clearly stated in Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians. And it is interesting, it is not even fruits, in plural, it is fruit, in the singular, because I believe the understanding would be that there are many fruits in plural that we could bear, but they are all one and the same fruit, or they are aspects of one and the same fruit.
But in any case, in Galatians 5:22, the word there is singular. “But the fruit of the Holy Spirit.” And then he lists them: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control—this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I’ll read them again: Love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and enkratia, which means control of one’s self, or temperance, sobriety. And of course, those are the elements that make us God-like. That is what makes us children of God. That is what makes us like Christ. And the whole purpose of the Lord’s coming is that we would have this fruit. We would be grafted to Him, we would remain in Him, we would abide in Him, He would abide in us, and then these fruits would be produced.
But apart from Him we cannot produce any of these fruits at all. And here, again, we would say, like we have said on other occasions, there may be people who do not know anything about Christ. Maybe they do not know the gospel. But if they have these realities in their life and they are really real—if they have real love, real joy, real peace, real kindness, real gentleness, real fidelity, real self control—we Christians would say they have that because of the grace of God. They have that because of the Spirit of God. Even if they have never heard of the Spirit of God, it is the Spirit of God working in them that produces those things, even if they are unaware of it themselves.
Because it would be our teaching, which we have said many times on the radio already, if we are not bringing forth good fruit, we are bringing forth bad fruit. If we are not living and being vivified and being made fruitful by the Holy Spirit, then we are being vivified, and even controlled and possessed by the devil. There is no middle path. It is either good fruit or bad fruit. It is either the Holy Spirit or the demons. It is either God or Satan.
But human beings, wherever they are on the planet earth and whoever they are, they can hunger and thirst for what is right, they could call out in the depth of their heart, praying when they do not even know they are praying, and these fruits can be in them. And in fact, one of the gifts of being a Christian, according to Scripture and the saints, is the ability to discern the fruit of God where it exists, to discern the activity of the Holy Spirit among peoples who may not be Christian, and then to be able to rightly define it, or rightly divide it., as it says in the Timothy letter. To say “This is good, this is bad, this is of God, this is not. This is holy, this is evil. This is just, this is unjust.” To have discernment, diakresis. That is a gift of the Holy Spirit, to see where the fruit is really the fruit of God that is being produced.
And then we would say if it is being produced, it is being produced by Christ in the person, because apart from Him, you can do nothing. So if anybody anywhere is doing anything that is really of God, they are doing because of Christ, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. So where you have that fruit you can say someone is a disciple of God.
Now, the conscious, clear Christians who are baptized, Chrismated and receive Holy Communion and are grafted to Christ’s body and blood in church, if that is really working and is not unto condemnation or judgment, then it is shown by the fruit that is produced in their life. It is produced in their life. And then it can be said that if these fruits are seen elsewhere, Christians will say, “God is there, God is working there. They are not far from the Kingdom.” And that is possible.
But let us forget about that for now. Let us pay attention to ourselves. I assume that most of us here together today are Christians, and therefore we have to insist that our Christianity, our faith, our grace, can only be proven by the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our life, or, to be a little bit more humble and modest, our desire for that fruit, our working for that fruit, our laboring for that fruit. And even being a little bit more modest, a little bit more humble, our tears of repentance and our sadness when we do not produce fruit, when we acknowledge that we are fruitless, we are undeserving servants, we do not produce the fruit, that we are in danger of being cut off and burned and we beg God not to burn us, not to cast us off, not to cut us off. And be the way, even the term “anathema,” literally means to be cut off, to be cut off from the vine, to be cut off from the body, because you are not producing fruit, you are just a cancer on it, you are ruining it as a matter of fact.
Now this whole approach is very biblical. It is in the Old Testament. It is not new with Jesus. In fact, all of this imagery of the entire New Testament is taken from the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. And I will just give you two examples right now.
Let the first example be from the Psalter, from the Psalms. In the Psalms, you have a psalm which is very precious and important for Orthodox Christians, Psalm 80, because it is a psalm that begins, “Hear, give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, Thou who leadest Joseph like a flock.” And for us that shepherd is Jesus. God shepherds us through His son Jesus. “Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.” And for us that is Christ who is coming from heaven. “Stir up Thy might and come to save us.” We say that at the resurrection matins as a prokeimenon. “Come and save us, O God.” And then three times the antiphon, the refrain of this psalm, is “Restore us, O God. Let Thy face shine upon us that we may be saved. Restore us, O God of hosts. Let Your face shine upon us. Do not be angry with our prayers, that we may be saved.”
Then you have specifically in the psalm the imagery of the vine, and I will read it. It is Psalm 80, verse 8:
“Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt. Thou didst drive out the nations and plant it. Thou didst clear the ground for it. It took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the seas and its shoots to the river. Why then hast thou broken down its walls so that all who pass by along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it and all that move in the field feed on it.”
Now that vine that the psalmist says the Lord brought out of Egypt, that is the people of Israel. That is His chosen people. He brought them out of Egypt through Moses. He drove out the nations and planted it. The Canaanites were driven out by God, who gave the land to His people. Then it says, “Thou didst clear the ground. It took deep root and filled the land.” Those are the people who filled the land of Canaan, Palestine, where Israel and Judah are living. And it says these branches were growing. But then it says, “But why is it broken down now? What is going on now?”
And then you have this prayer in the fourteenth verse, “Turn again, O God of hosts. Look down from heaven and behold, and have regard for this vine, the stock which Thine own right hand has planted, and establish it.” Now that verse is very, very familiar to Orthodox Christians, if they pay attention, and if they have liturgies in the languages that they can understand. Sometimes they hear these things and they do not understand them, they are in Greek or Slavonic or something nobody can understand. But at the divine liturgy, when the bishop serves, at the Trisagion, at the singing of the Holy God, when the bishop enters into the sanctuary with his candles and takes his place before the alter and the Trisagion is sung, and then he goes and stands behind the alter and he faces the people and he says, “Peace be unto all.” Salaam aleichem, peace be to all. Then he comes and he blesses the people from the bema, from the high place, and he says these words—holding up his candles, the triple and the double, that stand for the Holy Trinity and Jesus as God and man—the bishop says these words, “Turn again God of hosts. Look down from heaven and see.” Usually they say, “Lord, Lord, look from heaven and see.” “And behold, and have regard for this vine, the stock which Thy right hand has planted, and establish it.” And then everybody sings, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal.”
So in the liturgy, we have the bishop blessing us and calling us the vine. We are the vine that the right hand of the Lord God has planted. And therefore we are supposed to bring forth fruit. We are the vineyard that is supposed to bring forth fruit according to the psalmist.
But then, if we keep reading this psalm, it is terrifying. As usual, it is always terrifying, because it says, “Lord, look down from heaven and behold, and have regard for this vine, the stock which Thy right hand has planted. For they have burned it with fire, they have cut it down. May they perish at the rebuke of Thy countenance.”
In other words, it is all trampled on, it is all broken down. The walls are broken down. The fruits are being stolen by thieves and robbers. The vineyard is in terrible shape. It is not in good shape. It is not producing fruit and the little fruit that it is producing is being robbed, it is being stolen. Those who pass along the way pluck its fruit, it says in the twelfth verse.
And then it continues with a promise, with a hope. It says, “But let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand, the Son of Man whom Thou hast made strong for Thyself.” And we Christians say, “That mean Jesus.” Right in this psalm you have Jesus referred to. The Lord has planted the vineyard, he wants fruit to come. He asks God to look upon it. But then He proclaims that it is burnt with fire and cut down and trampled. But then He says, “Let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand.” And then it says, “Even the Son of Man, whom Thou hast made strong for Thyself.”
And here I cannot resist saying that it is very important to have that expression, “Even the Son of Man whom Thou hast made strong for Thyself,” because that refers to Jesus. And in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible, which is politically correct and de-sexed, they just say, “Let Thy hand be upon the person whom You have made strong for Yourself.” Well it is not the person, it is the Son of Man. It is “the” Son of Man. It Jesus Himself.
And then it says, “Then we will never turn back from Thee. Give us life and we will call upon Thy name. Restore us, O Lord God of hosts. Let Thy face shine upon us that we may be saved.” Restore us, O God. Give us life, make us alive, make us bear fruit, and we will call upon Thy name. So that is the imagery that you have in the Psalter already—the vine brought out of Egypt. That is God’s people.
Now another example of that would be in the prophets. The prophets use this all the time. I cannot even refer to all of them and I won’t. We are running out of time here. But I will just mention Isaiah. Isaiah the fifth chapter, I will just read it to you.
“Let me sing for My beloved a love song concerning His vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He digged it, He and cleared it of stones, planted it with choice vines. He built a watch tower in the midst of it. He hued out a wine vat in it and He looked to it to yield grapes. But it yielded wild grapes. And now inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?”
Listen to what God says.
“What more was there for Me to do for My vineyard that I have not already done in it? But when I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, it shall be devoured. I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste. It shall not be pruned or hoed, and briars and thorns shall grow up. And I will also command the clouds that the rain rain no rain upon it.”
So God is kind of cursing his fruitless vineyard. That is terrifying. That is horrible. And then it continues, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel. And the men of Judah are His pleasant planting. And He looked for justice. But behold, He found bloodshed. He looked for righteousness and behold, a cry.”
So you have this imagery of the vineyard. But then in the same Isaiah, six chapters later, you have this written:
“But there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. And He shall not judge by what His eyes see or decide by what His ears hear. But with righteousness He shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of His waist, faithfulness the girdle of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed. The young shall lay down together. The lion shall eat straw like an ox, the sucking child play over the hole of asp. The weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain. For the earth shall be filled with the fullness of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the nations. Him shall the nations seek. And His dwelling shall be glorious.”
And then it says, “On that day the Lord will extend His hand a second time and recover the remnant which is left from His people.” Now, I think any Christian who knows a bit about the Christian faith and the bible knows that this means Jesus. This means Jesus. He is the rod of the root of Jesse. We have been through the Christmas celebration. This chapter is actually read in church at the vigil services for the nativity of Christ, the coming of Christ, for the epiphany.
And then, of course, in Matthew’s gospel, it even says, according to the prophecy, He will be called the Nazarene. And many people think that means He is going to be raised in the Galilean city of Nazareth. But Nazareth is named Nazareth after the word nezer, which means root, which means branch. And where it says “He shall be called the Nazarene,” it means that He will be the branch, He will be the vine, He will be the one that we are grafted to. He will be the one that will produce fruit and through whom we can produce fruit.
And that will happen because “the Spirit of the Lord will be upon Him, and righteousness will be the girdle of His waist, and faithfulness the girdle of His loins, and He will decide with righteousness for the sake of the poor and equity for the meek of the earth. And He will slay people with the breath of his lips.”
That is also in the New Testament in the letter of the Thessalonians. All of this imagery is in the New Testament. All this is even quoted in the New Testament. It is quoted by the evangelists. It is quoted by Saint Paul, these very, very verses. But they all have to do with Jesus being the vine, the branch, the root, the fruit bearer, the one in whom the Holy Spirit brings forth fruit. And all this is put upon us.
And in the Orthodox Church even, just one more example. On Great and Holy Thursday, the day of the last supper, at the vigil, there is a reading from Jeremiah. Actually, it is from the Lamentation and it is even partially from Baruch. This is how it begins:
The Lord made it known to me and I knew that Thou didst show me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb to the slaughter. I did not know as against me they devised schemes saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree, the vine with its fruit. Let us cut Him off from the land of the living, that His name be remembered no more.’
So instead of God cutting off the fruitless branches, the evil people of the world are trying to cut down the stem that God has planted. They are trying to cut down Christ. “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit.” That means Jesus. “Let us cut Him off from the land of the living. Let us crucify him that His name shall be remembered no more.” Oh, how they did not know that His name would be remembered forever!
And then at the end of that very same reading from Jeremiah on Great and Holy Thursday, you have these words:
Many shepherds (many pastors), have destroyed My vineyards. They have trampled down My portion. They have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation. Desolate, it mourns for Me. The whole land is made desolate. But no man lays it to heart.
But then it ends, “But after I have plucked them out, cut them off, I will again have compassion on them and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his own land.” So the final word of the Lord is always the word of salvation, of re-grafting, of redemption, of restoration, of renewal, of being made alive again, of being grafted to the vine again. That is our hope.
But what we want to think now today is this: Jesus is the vine and apart from Him we can do nothing, literally nothing. But if we are grafted to Him and His life flows through us, His blood flows through our veins, we breathe by his own Holy Spirit, then we produce fruit, too. And then we become vines. We become the vineyard that God has planted. And we hope that when our bishop would pray and look out at us and say, “Lord, Lord, look down from heaven and visit the vine which Thy right hand has planted,” that we could continue, “for it is bearing much fruit. It is remaining in You. It is grafted to You.” And not hear the words, “But it is trampled on. It is only fit to be cut down and thrown into the fire and burned. It is all fruitless.” No, no. We do not want to hear that. But the ax is laid to the root of the tree, and the branches that do not bear fruit, they are cut off and they are burned.
So when we hear about Jesus saying, “I Am the true vine. I Am the vine, you are the branches.” We have to know what this means. And what it means is that we would be living vines grafted to the vine. That we would be living branches grafted to the branch, the nezer, the root. That we would be connected to Christ and that His life would be in us and our life would be in Him. That He would abide in us and we would abide in Him. That everything we would ask in this condition, He would give it to us.And that we would have the fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love and peace and joy and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and fidelity and self control. What St. John the Baptist called the fruit worthy of repentance. That is what we have to pray for. That is what we have to want.
But we know today, what we are thinking about today, is that our Lord Jesus Christ, the “I Am,” is not only the Bread of Life. He is not only the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is not only the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is not only the bread and the living bread that comes from heaven, which if a person eats it they can never die. He is not only the door through which we enter into God’s Kingdom and into the flock of God. He is not only the light of the world so that we could be lights of the world in and with Him.
But He is the true vine, and we are the branches. And when we are branches grafted to that vine, we become true vines ourselves. And it is proven by our fruit. “By their fruit you will know them.” And that fruit comes when we are grafted to the vine. And that vine is our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “I Am the vine. I Am the true vine. I Am the only vine. You are the branches. Abide in me and I in you, and thereby, bear much fruit.”