I didn't quite know what to call this...
Maybe "John 15; a gardener's translation" or "why Jesus would have made a great grape pruner"
but since it's that time of year anyway... let's start thinking about sharpening our tools.
My Brother in Law is a theology student and asked me to have a look at John 15, and let him know about the ins and outs of grapes, and why Jesus used them to illustrate his point, instead of olives (which were also popular at the time). Here's what I came up with:
Basically the main theme I'm picking up is pruning, it reads almost like a 'how to' of grape pruning in winter. In June or July here in the valley all the grape vines have dropped all their leaves and any old fruit that was hanging on, and the vines are quite bare. Most vineyards will send teams of pruners in to go up each row, pruning off old branches and making big piles of trimmings which are burnt (and I hear rumours that the fire from grape canes is extra hot!). The purpose of this is to remove any old unproductive branches that use up the vines' energy and water without providing much (if any) fruit. Any diseased branches are also removed to stop it spreading to other branches and killing the vine. Once this is done, the best branches are chosen (usually only 2 or sometimes 4), these are trimmed and trained along a wire, to make sure they produce the maximum number of grapes and have plenty of support. The removal of old branches also encourages new growth when the spring comes, which will be the fruiting branches for next year.
As for olives, they are not really pruned at all unless there is dead wood or disease in the branches. They usually keep their leaves all year round, and the tree just keeps on getting bigger and making its branches stronger.
I guess the main difference that stands out to me is the permanence of olive branches, compared to the temporary nature of grape branches. Both bear fruit, but grapes require maintenance to keep the vine fruitful. It seems to me that the main message is this- the vine requires healthy branches to form fruit. These branches are temporary and will be removed if they cause disease or fail to be productive.
It's interesting to note that the vine itself and its roots are much more permanent, and would live as long as an olive tree. Only the branches are constantly being removed and replaced.
A gardener's translation: Jesus is permanent and the source of life for his people. He requires us to produce good fruit, otherwise we will be cast away from him, where there is no life.
Who knew the Bible contained a grape pruning guide? I'll have to give a copy to my apprentices...