There are certain characteristics which are often admired in your workplace. These will include those which begin with the word “self”. Self-motivated, self-starter and self-made. These strong characteristics are seen as signs of fortitude, independence and effectiveness. They depict a person as not needing to be told what to do but just getting on with it and achieving results.
There’s no doubt that some truth exists in this thinking. Determination, inner strength, desire and drive can be harnessed to achieve all kinds of work related success.
Yet, it misses a massive point. It is, in the end, illusion and the results variable. If your goals are wealth, power, prosperity and status then these characteristics can play a part, but it may not be the way to assess the fruit of your labour or the fruit of your life.
Rewind to Jerusalem and you can meet, in the pages of the Gospels, the Son of Man who was enormously successful. His words have shaped the world. His followers are more numerous than those of any other individual in history and his impact on countless lives in two millennia is incalculable.
There exists, however, at the centre of his consciousness a polar opposite from the self-made thinking in the beginning of this piece.
You are looking, with me, at his awareness of himself in the words “I am the true vine”. At first sight he seems to be positioning himself at the centre of the picture. He displaces Israel as God’s vine then uses the analogy of branches and fruit to show how success is derived, not self-generated.
First sight, however, often misses the point. The vine in the imagery is itself dependent on a multiplicity of conditions to survive.
If you know anything about vines you will know that supplying the branches with the nutrients to bear fruit will be related to where the vine is planted (a sunny slope is best); what it is planted in (aerated, watered soil is best); how much sun it gets (1300-1500 hours in the season); how much water it gets (27-inches per year) and how protected it is from hazards (wind, hail, cold, pests, mould, insects and frost). Then it needs cutting, pruning, tending. It also needs time. The fruit can come slowly and patience is needed.
Can you see that the vine itself has no control over these factors? The vine is utterly dependent on the vine-dresser or gardener to arrange conditions for the vine to be strong.
So the Son of Man says, “I am the true vine AND my Father is the vinedresser (gardener)”.
This is entirely in keeping with his understanding of himself. Listen to his words ten chapters earlier in John’s book. “I tell you the truth, the Son of Man can do nothing by himself”. He goes on to show his utter dependence on his Father.
So fruitfulness, health, strength and success and image is not about self-management but about connectedness and dependence.
The Son of Man, since before Abraham and beyond, has been always in a constant state of connectedness to the Father. He has bathed in his Father’s love, drawn strength from that love, been one with it.
So when he wants to communicate a profound truth to you he chooses not just the vine-image but the vine plus the gardener image. His invitation to you is to enjoy what he has enjoyed, to join that to which what he is already joined.
Now you can see it makes sense when he goes on to say, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love.”
It’s all about connectedness and dependence and it is the way to function on your work this week. The Son of Man’s deep awareness of himself was dependence on the Father and he invites you to become deeply aware of your dependence on the Son. This is not just to achieve those things labeled churchy things or ministry things, it is to achieve anything.
1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear 1much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
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