Jesus calls himself the ‘True Vine’, invoking the image from the Jewish Scriptures of Israel, God’s people, being called a vine and reminding his disciples of the mission Israel had been given by God – to bring justice to the world. This mission had come repeatedly throughout the Old Testament scripture but Israel had repeatedly failed by their unfaithfulness to God, through following other gods (idolatry) and by lack of justice in their own communities, let alone around the world. God, looking like Jesus, is making clear his intention that he will fulfil the mission himself on behalf of Israel and the whole of humanity, being obedient and faithful, even though it meant his arrest, torture and execution on a cross.
Jesus demonstrates fruit through miracles, signs and wonders, through healing sickness and by raising dead people to life. He is fruitful as he enters into the lives of those who the religious leaders condemn – the woman caught in adultery, tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves – turning their stories around, enabling such personal transformation that they are the founders of the emerging church. Our fruit, doing what Jesus does, is to God’s glory.
We are fruitful if we remain (abide) in Jesus and he, his spirit and his word, remains in us. Remaining, most superficially, means remaining in the local church. There are no lone wolf disciples of Jesus outside the company of believers. To remain, more profoundly, requires long obedience in the same direction, a daily decision to live the prayer Jesus taught: “Our father, your kingdom come, your will be done in me, on earth as in heaven.” To remain is to host God’s presence minute by minute. To a remainer, fruit is answered prayers. Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Moro tribe, in the Philippines, experimented with a ‘game of minutes’ intentionally bringing God’s presence to mind each minute of his waking day, over a year. Gradually he spent longer, aware of the With-Us-God, and the fruit of this remaining and hosting Jesus was the development of a literacy program to teach 500,000 of the illiterate Moro tribe to read in their own language. The same scheme has been used over the past 90 years to teach 60 million people to read their own language, so giving access to the bible and bringing peace.
Along with remaining, comes pruning, if we are to be very fruitful and do what Jesus does. Branches of vines, if left alone, trail in the dirt and dark and need lifting, training and pointing at the sun. Even then most of the energy they draw goes into leaves, just drawing attention to themselves and not producing fruit. If we don’t allow our self-promotion, our envy and jealousy of others, our apathy and delight in our own ideas and plans, to be cut back, we will use what we draw from Jesus to bring attention to ourselves and not to his glory. Before we can experience resurrection life in an area, we have to experience death. We are fruitful as we remain with Jesus, to live a ‘with Jesus’ life, to be with Jesus and become like him and one with him and so do what he does.