He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesa so that it will be even more fruitful.
One of my favorite times of the year is early spring when I get to tend to my flower beds after a long, dormant winter. It’s always exciting to see plants which look dead burst into color with new life. But inevitably there will be some plants that need to be cut back or trimmed up in order to promote new, healthy growth.
In this passage, Jesus talks to his disciples about gardening as a metaphor of the Christian life. By this time they are all in the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove and vineyard, complete with a winepress. The disciples are still shaken by the revelation that someone would betray Jesus and that Peter is going to deny him. But I think Jesus is continuing to offer them encouragement.
The pruning process would not be pleasant for the branches, but it’s necessary to grow. We have to cut off parts of our lives that are holding us back. This is similar to what Jesus said about cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin – hyperbole for sure, but it makes the point.
Then there are those branches that are just completely dead. There is no amount of trimming or pruning to bring life back into them. The best thing to do is cut them off completely so the rest of the plant can thrive. Is Jesus talking about actual people here? Maybe – see “Judas Iscariot.” But just as the visual parable about the fig tree, I think Jesus is talking more about the old religious systems of their day, namely the Temple. The Temple was supposed to be a place where people went to be with God. However, they had turned it into a combination of a shopping mall and social media IRL. It wasn’t bearing the fruit it was supposed to – giving light to the nations and hope to the Gentiles.
What fruit are we talking about? Growth of the kingdom. Light in the darkness. The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, etc. If we’re not bearing the fruit, can we really claim we are remaining in Christ? It’s entirely possible to wear the name “Christian” without actually bearing the fruit of the Spirit and the Kingdom. Maybe we need to ask God to prune us, to clean us, to prepare us to bear fruit. It won’t be pleasant, but it will be worth it.