Thursday, 19 March 2015

Lent Day 26

After the severest of pruning in late winter, the first leaves appear on the grapevine, as Spring warmth returns to bless the earth with signs of new life.

For Hebrew people, to sit under the shade of one's vine and/or fig tree was a common expression of living in peace and well being - of shalom. 

"Each of them will sit under his vine And under his fig tree, With no one to make them afraid, For the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken." (Micah 4:4)

"'Do not listen to Hezekiah,' for thus says the king of Assyria, 'Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern " (Is 36:16)

The flourishing of the vine was a symbol of the divine blessing of peace and prosperity.

"Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table." (Psalm 128:3)

God promises to protect his faithful children's vines and fruit from pestilence and disease. 

"Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes," says the LORD of hosts. (Mal 3:11) 

When the desert wandering Hebrew tribes entered the land of God's promise, many settled down and cultivated the land as well as keeping animal herds. Natural vines provided some fruit for free, but the labour of well managed cultivation produced great abundance, yielding a harvest for both eating and drinking. The vine became a symbol of God's blessing, both in creation, and in the liberation of his people from bondage in Egypt. It appeared in decorative art in both secular and sacred settings.

"The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. 'Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop " (Lev 25:1-5)

"For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey " (Deut 8:7-8)

The withering of the vine, so ready to flourish in the toughest of circumstances, is seen by the prophets as a curse upon those who failed to keep their covenant with God, in these and half a dozen similar verses in which it is a symptom of environmental catastrophe due to war or drought.

"I will surely snatch them away," declares the LORD; "There will be no grapes on the vine And no figs on the fig tree, And the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away." "(Jerem 8:13) 

And it will come about in that day, that every place where there used to be a thousand vines, valued at a thousand shekels of silver, will become briars and thorns. (Is 7:23)

The vine becomes a symbol of God's people and their land.

"You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground before it, And it took deep root and filled the land." (Psalm 80:8-9)

"O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You; Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine, Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted" (Psalm 80:14-15)

"For a nation has invaded my land .... It has laid waste my vines and ruined my fig trees. It has stripped off their bark and thrown it away, leaving their branches white." (Joel 1:7)

Isaiah's parable of the vineyard imagines God as the vine dresser and the vineyard as the land and people of Israel, whose unfruitfulness  reflects their unfaithfulness towards Him.

"Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones."  (Is 5:1-2)

Jesus draws directly upon the imagery in this parable, in telling a parable of his own (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19), in which God is the vineyard owner who entrusts it to tenants that betray him in order to deprive him of the benefit of his fruitful investment in time and effort. Its message is that God ultimately cannot be cheated of what is rightfully his. It is important in understanding meaning of the passion of Jesus, as it is just about to unfold.

John proclaims Jesus as God's Son and one of his great symbols in the 'I AM' sayings is that of the vine, with its different layers of meaning. There are echoes of the above parables, and an indication of the purpose behind God's judgement.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:1-2)

Then Jesus suggests the vine as a symbol of inter-relationship between himself and his disciples. Outside of this relationship with God in and through him, there is no fruitfulness, only condemnation to destruction.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned." (John 15:5-6)

As one who had seen Jesus' ministry right through and lived long to reflect on his teaching and the meaning of all that he had witnessed, John's message is uncompromising.

"Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 5:12)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)

The essential relationship in the vine of parts to the whole, as in any fruit bearing plant or tree is a constant reminder to all of our utter dependency upon God for our existence and all it contains.

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