Street corners, window boxes, and yards are filled with beautiful flowers this season! Newest plants continuously soak in raindrops and rays that push down roots and help sprout new leaves. Older established plants in my yard received extra attention during our months of quarantine. Faithfully, they’ve put down deeper roots and grown stronger branches. A colorful spray of blossoms testifies to time well spent. A few other plants have weathered many seasons and produced so many rounds of color that they’ve become crowded. For them to continue blooming, the thinning shears are just a snip away. One or two sick plants need a little tender loving care. But, those dead limbs that land in the grass after a wind storm will get tossed into the fire at the farm.
When it comes to your relationship with Jesus, are you in the exciting beginning-to-root stage, the satisfying blossoming stage, or do you feel like all of your get-up-and-go got up and went? Disappointments, frustrations, and setbacks can wear on our souls until we’re not sure if we have what it takes to push out the measliest of blooms.
Within His farewell message to His disciples (John 14-17), Jesus uses the analogy of the vine to make a point. He identifies God as the gardener, Himself as the vine, and His disciples as the branches. Their job is to bear much fruit or, in other words, to bloom where they will soon be planted. This is the tribe who excitedly followed the man they were convinced was the Messiah. They listened, learned, and put down roots. Yet, after Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified many of them scattered, too confused and fearful to think about blooming.
When we aren’t feeling productive, reading John 15 in some translations or paraphrases might make us want to drop our heads in defeat. The New International Version, the New Living Translation, and The Message, unfortunately, use the same two words to describe what happens to branches that don’t bear fruit.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 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.”
CUTS OFF? That sounds like added stress to an already stressful situation. It sounds final. The disciples suffered an enormous setback when Jesus died. They became disappointed, and let fear overtake their faith, but they were NOT cut off from Jesus. On the contrary, He came back to them. He comforted and encouraged them. He gave them new insight. He commissioned them. He loved them. Days later, He would send His Spirit to live inside them and provide the nourishment they needed to go forth and bear much fruit.
The English Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, and even the King James Version translate the Greek word airo as TAKES AWAY instead of CUTS OFF. That sounds less harsh, but when we are at our worst, the threat of being cut off or taken away from Jesus can cause us to want to give up.
I grew up believing that I walked a tightrope. If I curled my toes around the rope, inched forward, and hung on for dear life I might make it to the Promised Land. It scared the ever-lovin’ joy out of me to think that way, but I certainly didn’t want to be cut off. In my way of thinking, and many others around me, a careless misstep meant eventually joining Satan and Judas in Hell, rather than Jesus and John in Heaven.
For several years now, I’ve allowed Scripture to reintroduce me to Jesus. When our minds are open, we don’t have to accept every thought and idea that floats past us. An open mind simply allows us to see things from a different perspective or discover things we may have missed. It gives us the opportunity to search the Scriptures to see if what we’ve heard is true.
Reading through the Old and New Testaments every year has helped me make meaningful connections between the two. Changing translations every few years helps me notice new things and helps me see things in a slightly different light. When I see a new phrase or I question the way something is translated, I investigate. That may not be your thing, but I love it! This year I’m reading through the New Living Translation and The Passion Translation.
When I read John 15:1-2 in The Passion Translation I stopped suddenly. It didn’t say what I expected it to say, so I read it again.
“I am a true sprouting vine, and the farmer who tends the vine is my Father. He cares for the branches connected to me by LIFTING AND PROPPING UP THE FRUITLESS BRANCHES and pruning every fruitful branch to yield a greater harvest.”
I kept reading those words over and over. I thought, “Surely, they got that one wrong.” So, I investigated. Without getting all nerdy, just know that many scholars believe that the Greek word airo is more accurately translated “lifts up” rather than “takes away” or “cuts off”. That’s exactly what vinedressers did then, and still do. Whenever the branches of a grapevine droops, lifting it off the ground and propping it up protects the branch and promotes more productive growth.
Jesus was ministering to His disciples – the branches that were already “in Him”. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew they would soon droop. He wanted to reassure them that God is a good gardener who carefully lifts up His branches that have suffered setbacks and disappointments and have become frustrated and fearful. God would indeed prop them up when they needed it, but He would also prune away the harmful things that hindered a spectacular harvest. The Passion Translation just might have it exactly right. This new perspective certainly fits the Jesus I’ve come to know and the God who loves us all.
So, what about Judas? Jesus addressed him, and people like Him, in verse 6. Notice that God doesn’t separate the branches from the vine; they separate themselves.
“If a person is separated from me, he is discarded; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire to be burned.”
May we rest in our choice to stay connected, knowing God will never leave us nor forsake us. He lovingly props us up when we droop, Jesus willingly sustains us, and the Holy Spirit will empower us to produce a colorful display that grabs the attention of every passerby, all for the glory of God.
“Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.”
Ephesians 3:20, TPT