Pruning and Other Cutting Metaphors

He is the vine. We are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing.

Humbling. And there’s more. He prunes the branches that bear fruit, so that they will bear more fruit.

pruning shearsNow, pruning involves some painful cutting, to be sure. But there’s painful cutting, and there’s painful cutting. The first generation of Christians had to settle the question of whether adult male Gentile converts must submit to circumcision. The Holy Spirit led the Apostles down the less-painful path in that case…

Nonetheless, isn’t it maddening, in this day and age of streaming Netflix, to have to contend with all the agricultural metaphors the Lord Jesus used? And for that matter, it can be even more frustrating to have to consider one of the crucial underlying meanings of all these farm images: namely, that the disciple of Christ cannot expect immediate satisfaction. The humble disciple must wait patiently on the Lord.

Christ gave us a number of parables that counsel this patience. Seeds take a long time to grow; farmers have to wait patiently for the rains and the harvest season. A mustard seed takes forever to grow into a tree. Fig trees that bear no fruit need to be cultivated again and given another year. Etc.

circumcison knifeBut, among all these patience-counseling parables, it would seem that the image of a vine being pruned is the most galling of all, to the get-it-done-now, e-mail-addled mind. Because the pruning of a vine can look to the untrained eye like a step backwards. It looks like crazy destructiveness. Wait a minute! That branch had some perfectly good-looking buds on it! Look at it—it’s all leafy! And you’re cutting it back?! You’re cutting a fruit-bearing branch! Stop this madness!!

But the wise vine-dresser possesses both more patience and more expertise. He knows that it is precisely the branches with buds that need to be cut the most carefully—in order for the entire organism truly to thrive as it is meant to thrive—and bear fruit that is ripe and easy for plucking.

When you get right down to it, being on the receiving end of a spiritual pruning might actually be more painful than adult circumcision. But it is this great act of pruning, which galls our impatience to the core and schools us in the most profound humility; it is by pruning us, His vines, so wisely, that the Lord turns us into branches that can bear choice grapes for fine wine.

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