Great Storyteller of the Great Story
Jesus was a master storyteller, and the story about a vine and its branches is just such a story. It's a part of what later came to be known in the Gospel of John as Jesus' Farewell Discourse, told to his disciples shortly before his death. I believe that he was intentionally using it to prepare them, and perhaps himself, for all that lay before them For Jesus knew that he was soon going to die, and he knew that he would have to leave his work, his precious work, in the hands of his disciples. So through this very familiar image of a vine and its branches, he was giving them a way to remember him and a way to understand that he would continue to be a presence and a source of strength for them, even after he was gone.
And in this little story, he does those three things which identify him as a master story-teller. First, Jesus takes the common image of a grape vine, an image that would have been intimately familiar to the people of that region. But secondly, and this is something our modern hearing often misses, Jesus had also chosen an image with profound historical implications as well for the Jewish people of that time. For, you see, the Jewish nation had long understood itself to be the vine which God had planted in the fertile soil of the new and promised land of Israel. For example, in the book of Isaiah it is written, as if to honor God as the owner of the land,
And then also the 80th Psalm traces some of the history of the people of Israel with this same image when it says:
Surely the people gathered round Jesus would have known these images. They would have had this self-understanding, and would grasp in the very depths of their being the meaning of what Jesus was trying to say to them when he said, "I am the vine, and you are the branches. Abide in me. For if you stray from me or deny me, surely you will wither and die."
Then he also meets the third criterion for a good storyteller, which is that, as he talks, he creates an image which gives hope to his listeners and provides us with a sense of identity and purpose that can carry us forward into the uncertainties of the future. In this instance, he does it by using an image which makes evident the organic nature of our relationship with Christ and the inseparability which exists between us. And then he concludes his story with the invitation, "Come and abide in me," he says. "Come and make your dwelling place in me, that you might bear much fruit and belong to me forever. With this promise, Jesus commits himself to all who will follow him throughout all time.
So all of this history and identity and encouragement is given us through the simplicity of a story told about common things but speaking to the wordless depths of the human soul.
I, my friends, are a people of the story. And it is God's continuing
story that holds us together as one, God's unfolding story that calls
us into the courage of being partakers in Christ. It is God's story
that nurtures us and sends us out into the world to love and serve
others in his name. So let's become storytellers ourselves and tell
God's story at every opportunity we get. But more importantly, let's
live that story as if the whole world depends on it. Because, you see,
in fact, it does.
John 15: 1-8
from a sermon delivered at Calvary
Episcopal Church, Memphis,
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