When a branch is to be grafted in to the stump of a vine, the vine is cut back to a stump and left to bleed. After a number of days an incision is made into the stump and a fresh branch grafted in and bound. The graft takes its life from then on from the stump and in time the graft becomes part of the vine.
This is the illustration from nature that Jesus took to inform our imaginations of what being in him means. Being in Christ is a Christian’s idenity and through Jesus’ death and resurection we are in spirit and truth joined to the people of God. Being grafted in we draw our life from Christ and inherit his everflowing nature; one with the Son yet fully us. The promised flowing of life is God the Spirit.
There is an even deeper truth. It is God, the Father who is the gardener. It is the Father who cuts back the vine to a stump and it is his hand that makes the incision and graft. It is him also who tends the vine. He cuts back the branches so that they may fruit.
Fruit grows on new growth. This is a labour of love and it takes some years before a branch is allowed to fruit as the buds on the new graft are chosen to grow. From then on the pinching out of buds and the cutting back of the branch become part of the life of the branch. This is the picture Jesus chooses to show us what being alive in him is and how we relate to the Father and the Spirit.
As we feel ourselves pinched, cut back and we observe fruit, Jesus gives us the confidence and reassurance that we are grafted into the vine. His loving words reassure us because, if a branch is removed, it dies, it is not tended; a cut off branch is burned. It is the gardener who does this. If we have any sense of our need we know the Spirit’s life is in us and the Father will tend us to bring new life, growth and fruitfulness. If we were discarded we would not long for this as we would be dead. Being cut out is not a threat; Jesus tells us this so that we might be full of his joy and this joy might be active.
The promise is that as we draw life from Jesus and make our home in him, he makes his home in us. Because of the flow of life from the stump, we can ask for what we wish, and it will be done for us.
A fruitful vine brings glory to the vine dresser. If we draw life from Jesus’ words we will know our need and we will ask. In asking we abide; we draw life from the Son. So the heart’s longing is the sign of life and we can trust the good work of the gardener, our Father in Heaven, to make us fruitful and give us what we need.