I love analogies; especially agricultural analogies. It makes so much sense to me that Jesus often spoke in parables, because they take the abstract and make it tangible. Unseen truths of our human nature are materialized in front of our eyes and become undeniable. Without them, I don’t think some of scripture would hit home for me as much as it does. Take John 15 for example; first, let me extract the analogy of the vine and the branches and simply look at what Jesus says and what my response would be. Essentially verses 1-5 would boil down to Jesus instructing me to, “Remain in [him].” I’d think, okay, I should remain in him, simply because he said to and it seems like a good idea to listen to him (he’s usually right); but whether I will or not is another question. What does that even mean to remain in Him? Jesus then in verse 6, (expecting that I’d require some reason to actually carry out what he says, as I often in my humanity do) follows up with an explanation, “without me you can do nothing.”
Oh, okay, so I should remain in him because without him, I can’t do anything. On a surface level I might accept that, or when I’m in times of trouble and can’t find the way on my own, I might, on a deeper level, own up to needing a little bit of help—but do I really believe what he’s saying? Will I truly accept that I need to remain in him to be able to do anything or will I try to do things on my own until its too hard, and then ask for help, soon forgetting afterwards that I needed the help I was given? I know from experience that I am guilty of rosy retrospection; even if things are a horrible tangled mess while I’m in them, once on the other side, I say, “that wasn’t that bad.”
Here enters my love for agricultural analogies. In John 15, the fullness of what Jesus says includes, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” Those two sentences, make all the difference in the world for me. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with vines, so I like to think about an apple tree instead, but the meaning remains the same. As long as a branch is attached to the trunk of the tree and receives water and nourishment through the root-system, it’ll be able to flourish and produce apples. All will be hunky-dory. If, however, someone were to come along and snap that branch off of the tree and leave it lying on the ground, everything would change. It may for a short time survive, but over days, weeks, and eventually months, it would totally wither and die; it certainly couldn’t grow any more apples. I mean, I don’t think Jesus could make it any clearer than that for me. Do you guys have that same mental picture? I just picture this branch lying on the ground trying to grow an apple, it simply can’t. Its cut off from its source of water and nutrients–its life. When I see that branch in my mind I think how futile its attempts would be to produce fruit.
That image for me is so meaningful every time I hear it. The verses it comes from is written into our rule of life and since we read a little section of the rule each day in morning prayer, I’m inevitably reminded of it every couple of weeks and today was one of those days. Its just so beautiful because its completely unquestionable. While I might sometimes in my pride question or deny needing God, all it takes is that snapshot of a branch lying on the ground to remind me of the absurdity of thinking that I could do anything apart from Jesus. Today I choose to remain in the Lord, to be rooted in him, to stay connected through prayer and following his commandments. Afterall, who wants to just be a dead stick lying on the ground when they could be alive and part of something big. Plus, who doesn’t love apples?