The teachings of Jesus are full of references to the natural world. Much of the spiritual and abstract truths he shared were explained by comparing them to simple, physical experiences that were part of daily life. One example of this kind of teaching is found in the Gospel of John. Jesus points to a vine. Jesus was trying to give his disciples an understanding of their relationship to him and his heavenly father. No doubt, the disciples were confounded by much of what Jesus had to say about this relationship, but surely this illustration gave them comfort. Through this metaphor they could see that they were part of something greater than themselves and that there was one who cared for them, one who challenged and disciplined them for their own fruitful benefit. Pointing to a vine doesn’t answer all the questions. It doesn’t fill in all the blanks, but it does give an understanding. It opens a window. It encourages discovery. Thousands (maybe millions) of sermons have been inspired by this text, not because it is definitive or conclusive but because it allows the inconceivable to be recognizable and even a little familiar. Jesus is a vine. How unsacred. We are its branches. How comforting.
This week, our eighth grade students learned how and why our grape vines are pruned. They also learned about a divine relationship. After scripture was read to the sound of clippers, the conversation alternated between botanical and spiritual. It wasn’t definitive about either. We have a lot to learn about grapes and even more to learn about our relationship to God, but by comparing them we got to know each of them a little better.