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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus has been using important symbols from Israel’s history and Scriptures (shepherd, bread, water, light). Jesus now uses some of the most powerful images in Jewish culture to talk about himself: “I am the true vine….” The vineyard was one of Israel’s most prized historic symbols of its nationhood and inheritance.
There was time when people would say apple pie and baseball were America’s symbols. What would be the great metaphor for Los Angeles? The Hollywood sign? The beach? A sports team? Traffic? If Jesus were in Los Angeles, perhaps he might be talking about real estate, but in Israel he talks about vineyards, likening the vine to himself. This is Jesus’ final “I am” statement in John, declaring that he is the true vine. Essentially he is saying: “I am the true Israel of God.” Jesus says that he is the vine and people must now reconsider if they are on God’s side after all. People are no longer part of the vine just because they are Jewish by race. Rather, they are the branches that must be connected to Jesus in order to be truly God’s people (verse 4).
At my church in downtown Los Angeles, a group of folks have joined me in starting an urban farm. Instead of using soil in a traditional flat garden-bed, we directly spray water and nutrients onto the roots of vertically stacked vegetable plants in powered Tower Gardens (www.giveurbanfarms.org). This system uses 90% less water and grows 30% faster than conventional soil farming but it is dependent on a power source to keep the nutrient-rich water spraying onto each plant’s roots throughout the day. If for some reason the power goes out or our solar panels are blocked by shade, the pump won’t work and our plants will die. In a sense, these plants die because they lost their connection to their source.
An article from the May 2014 New York Times shares some troubling facts about workers today: “[Just] 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.” Leaders in the marketplace are facing daunting realities as they try to juggle their work, physical health, and personal obligations. Unfortunately, leaders in Christian institutions may not be faring much better. A 2015 Lifeway survey revealed the following about pastors of churches:
84 percent say they’re on call 24 hours a day.
80 percent expect conflict in their church.
54 percent find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming.
48 percent often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.
In verse 5, Jesus offers a blunt assessment of humanity trying to live a fruitful life outside of him: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Leaders are called not primarily to produce fruit but to stay in the vine. Staying connected to Jesus is essential, whether you work in Christian ministry or lead in the marketplace. Of course, Life for Leaders aspires to be one small but significant part of helping you stay connected to Jesus who is the only source of all life. Perhaps by pausing each day to read, reflect, and pray, you will find again your true identity as one who belongs to God and a connected branch who will undoubtedly bear fruit because the Father is in charge.
I’ll talk about the inevitable fruitfulness of leaders in the devotional tomorrow.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Why do you think Jesus chose the final image of the vine to conclude his “I am” statements? Is there one image that is more meaningful to you than others (bread, life, resurrection, light, vine)?
What spiritual habits help you stay connected to Jesus? Do you find you prefer to do these alone or with a group?
Can you think of a time when you know you were working hard but didn’t stay connected to Jesus? Did you really produce “nothing” as Jesus predicted?
Jesus, help me each day to stay connected to you, the vine. I know that the Father is the master gardener and I relish in the fact that I get to be part of God’s plan to do something that points to his goodness. Forgive me for thinking I can be effective on my own and forgive me for any sinful inclination to prioritize productivity over simply abiding in you. Thank you for your patience with me and using me as a leader in the church and marketplace. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: John 15.
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