by T.V. Philip
T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India.
The following appeared in The Kingdom of God is Like This, by T.V. Philip, jointly published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Cross Junction, M.C. Road, Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerela, India. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
All the synoptic gospels record that Jesus spoke of Israel as God’s vineyard. The parables make it clear that God cared for his vineyard and how disappointed he was that it didn’t produce the expected fruit. In the fourth gospel, Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches.
John 15: 1-6
I am the true vine, my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear fruit. ... I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from him you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the blades are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned
St. John uses different metaphors to describe the person of Christ. He is the bread from heaven, he is the living water and so on. In chapter 15, he is described as the true vine. Our relationship to Jesus is stated in terms of vine and branches. Only as we abide in him, we bear fruit.
In the Old Testament, the metaphor of vine and the vineyard is used quite often to describe Israel. Israel is the vine which God has planted. In Psalm 80, the psalmist says to God:
Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt; thou didst drive out the nations and plant it. Thou didst clear the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its roots to the river. (Psalms 80.8-11)
For Isaiah, Israel is the vineyard. He says:
Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He digged it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines; he built a watch tower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5: 1-2)
Jeremiah speaks of Israel as a vine when he says, "Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed". (Jeremiah 2:21) The prophets wonder why after all the trouble God took to bring the vine out of Egypt and carefully plant it and care for it, that God’s choice vine could become bitter and produce only wild grapes. "When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?" In the book of Deuteronomy it is said, "For their vine came from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps."(Deut. 32: 22-33)
Therefore God’s judgement comes upon his choice vineyard:
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it will be devoured; I will breakdown its walls, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and the briars and thorns shall grow up;... For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold a cry! (Isaiah 5:5-7)
All the synoptic gospels record that Jesus spoke of Israel as God’s vineyard (Matt. 21:33-41, Mark 11: 142, Lk. 20: 9-19). The parables make it clear that God cared for his vineyard and how disappointed he was that it didn’t produce the expected fruit. In the fourth gospel, Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. Here again the emphasis is on producing good fruit. The condition for producing good fruit is that we abide in the vine. The branches which do not produce fruit are cut off and burned.
St. Ephrem, the great theologian and poet of the Syrian church in the fourth century, has a number of hymns on Jesus Christ as the true vine and us as branches. He also speaks of Jesus as the grape. He says:
This is the branch which bent down its fruits to the thankless; they ate and were full but turned and insulted it. Yet it bent down, even to Adam in the midst of Sheol.... Blessed is he who bent it down to us for us to grasp and ascend by it.
Then the metaphor changes:
Blessed be the shepherd who became the lamb for our atonement, blessed be the vine shoot which became chalice for our salvation, blessed be the grape, the source of medicine of life.
Jesus Christ is the vine who has bent down his fruits for us to eat and be filled. He is the vineshoot and the grapes that became wine in the chalice for us to drink. He is crushed so that others may drink of him and live. This is what it means to produce good fruit.
• In the Acts of Thomas, an apocryphal book about the travels of St. Thomas in India, Thomas prays, "I have planted the true vine in the land. May it cast out its roots downwards".
• In the Old Testament, Israel is the vineyard of God expected to bear good fruit, but which failed its creator.
• In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the true vine and the believers are the branches. They are also expected to bear fruit.
To bear fruit is to allow ourselves to be crushed for the sake of the world, and become wine in the chalice so that others may drink of it.
To bear fruit there is one condition: abide in Christ. "Abide in me and I in you", says Jesus. It is an interpersonal relationship where the believer is in Christ and Christ in us. It is to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ who is both the shepherd and the sheep, the farmer and the wheat, the vine shoot and the wine in the chalice, the sacrifice and the sacrificer.