We're currently in the process of looking for a house. We've sold our current one to the state and have 90 days (now 80 and counting) to find a new place. All we've done is view some houses and submit a couple of bids. Currently we're waiting to hear back on a couple of them.
One of the houses we visited is a vacant foreclosure with a somewhat unkempt yard. Actually the state of the foliage around the back and side of the yard indicates that it was once tended, perhaps by longtime occupants, but has not been properly maintained in recent years - possibly by the immediately prior tenants, the ones who were evicted. None of the overgrowth was unreasonable, and we were delighted to find that some of it was concord grape vines. Somewhere in the house's history someone kept a small grape arbor, and the fruit on the untended vines was just ripening.
Since the house seemed suitable in other ways, we are currently bidding on it, and thus may end up buying it. But in the meantime, I was loath to see the grapes simply rot on the vine, so I went out to the vacant house and picked several pounds. While doing so, I noticed something about the bunches that I'd never seen before: a tremendous variation in the maturity of the grapes. Most of the bunches had everything from plump, sweet grapes of rich purple to tiny green bumps the size and shape of nonpareils. This struck me as odd - most grape bunches I'd seen in the store, and even on the vine at the local orchards, were of reasonably uniform maturity even if they varied in size.
This got me wondering about the vine. These were grapes from undressed vines - the arbor hadn't been tended for years, and the branches were twisting and sprawling all over the place. I'm just speculating, and I'd happily hear from someone who knows more about growing grapes, but I wondered if the irregularity of the grape maturity could be traced to the fact that they grew untended.
If this is true, it would illuminate another teaching of Jesus' that would make perfect sense to His immediate audience but be opaque to we non-agricultural moderns. I'm referring to His statement at the start of John 15: ""I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." I've always appreciated this passage as an encouragement not to be one of the branches that bears no fruit (i.e. good works), as well as an encouragement to persevere in times of difficulty (pruning). While both these understandings are good and appropriate, if I'm correct in my speculation about the kind of fruit borne by undressed vines, there would be yet another reason.
We all know that one of the struggles of following Christ is bearing fruit in all aspects of our lives. We all know people (perhaps ourselves) who might excel at one or two areas of discipleship but fail in others. You know - the man who might have a disciplined intellect and superb teaching ability but is emotionally immature and inconsistent, or the man who can be counted on to show up for every charitable work but can't be bothered to study Scripture or advance his understanding of God's truth. Might this inconsistency be like the fruit of untended vines, where you might pluck a bunch and only be able to use half the grapes because the others aren't suitable?
Again, I don't know if these phenomena are related, but if they are, the example of the vine dresser and the fruit would speak clearly to an audience familiar with agriculture. The intent of the pruning (trials of life) would be to produce not only more fruit (good works), but more consistent fruit. Saints and spiritual advisors have often spoken of the desirability of a consistent spiritual life - that one who is faithful in prayer should also be knowledgeable of God's ways, patient in demeanor, abundant in charitable deeds, and so forth. Could this consistency be the result of careful pruning by the Father, even as consistent clusters of grapes may be the result of well-dressed vines?
I'd love to know for certain, but I suspect there's a connection. I hope that makes me more patient the next time hardship or humiliation or struggle comes my way. I want to be a branch that bears consistent clusters of grapes, every one ripe in its time, succulent, and suitable for nourishment.
For the record, I picked several clusters and culled through them. About 1/3 of the grapes were unsuitable, but those that could be used were turned into a delicious batch of homemade grape jam. We'll enjoy the jam all autumn - but part of me can't help but think of the bunches that bore only one or two suitable grapes, and were judged unsuitable and cast into the garbage.
I don't want to be one of those bunches.
We've got a whole hand now - I still use the Internet lots (Twitter, Instagram, some Facebook) but this space has been sitting quiet for a long time and when I think about it, I just… ...
9 months ago