There are many images and stories within both the Old and New Testaments about God being the grower, the creator, the vineyard owner, the farmer.
Apart from the statement that Jesus is the vine our verses today also begin with naming the vine-grower, Jesus’ Father or God. The word for vine grower is translated tenant in the gospel parable, where the absentee landlord sends his son to the tenants after earlier servants and representatives are beaten and killed. In this particular parable the son is finally killed as well. Here in John, the Father, we are told, tends the Son-vine, pruning the branches for abundant fruitfulness. Grapevines do need pruning; grapes need sun but not too much. So in this image the Father does that precision tending for the perfect balance of light and shade.
The words for prune and remove in John 15:2 and clean in v. 3 (the phrase translated “You have already been cleansed” in the NRSV is literally “You are already clean”) involve two plays on words. First, prune has the same root verb as remove, with a prefix added to it. Then the adjective clean (translated cleansed) is an equivalent of the verb used for prune/cleanse. That adjective, clean, also appears in John 13:10-11. The work of the gardener-God continues the Son’s cleansing work of love.
The vine-growing Father has a history of getting their hands dirty in the soil. The creation story tells of God speaking and the world is created, following the great flood the world is again populated by people, flora and fauna blessed by the rainbow covenant. We are gifted with skills and passions from a God who pours out grace and love so that we can grow into all that we have been created to be.
It is perhaps also worth keeping in mind that branches don’t live off their own fruit. The fruit is for someone else, which feeds into our interpretation of love that we are encouraged to abide in. For now, this passage, which began with the vine tended by the vine-growing Father, comes to a close with the fruitful branches glorifying the one who has made them that way, and here we learn that another way to talk about this fruitfulness is discipleship, and so discipleship is also a gift. We bear fruit not by squeezing it out of ourselves but because we are extensions of the vine, pruned by the gardener-God who wants us to be fruitful and to be drawn into the unity of the Father and Son. God’s love, presence, and pruning are gifts. But we do choose the abiding place of our soul. If we want to bear Jesus’ fruit, then we choose to abide in him, which we will learn in John 15:9 means to abide in his love.
Jay Robinson – inspired by a commentary on this passage by Meda Stamper