A vine out of Egypt

Tomb_of_Nakht_(12).vines - Version 2

Tomb of Nakht, 15th Century BC

Wednesday

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine.”

We should not miss the audacity of this claim.

For many years I have heard the “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel as rich and wonderful words of comfort and assurance: “I am the bread of life; I am the water of life; I am the way, the truth and the life.” But the more I ponder how these words sounded in first century Judea, I hear their audacity.

Israel is God’s vine. Psalm 80 says it clearly:

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.

The psalmist cries out that God’s vineyard has been trampled by the empires of the world and begs for God to come to its vindication,

Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

The poet asks the painful question

How long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears…

And the poet’s prayer is not without bitterness.

14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.
16 They have burned it with fire,
they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.

What is missing from this prayer for God to come to the defense of Israel and Jerusalem is the message we hear in the prophets:

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

The truth is, this starts as a salacious song. The prophet stands in the public square and begins to air the dirty laundry of his beloved friend whose ‘vineyard’ (wife) he has loved and cared for – but she has betrayed him. The song gives vent to his friend’s vengeance upon this wife who returned his love and fidelity with “wild (bitter) grapes.” Then, as the crowd in the marketplace is drawn into this tale of love, betrayal and revenge, suddenly the prophet is looking them all in the eye and declaring:

“The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the House of Israel….

This nation has betrayed its heritage as God’s vineyard. It has not born the fruit of justice and mercy that God expected from a people delivered from bondage and planted in an abundant land. With a clever play from similar sounding words that is lost in translation, the prophet declares:

He expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry!

Israel is God’s vineyard. And now Jesus is standing in the public square declaring that he is the true vine. Not the nation. Not the people. Not the glorious and world famous temple. Not the priesthood. Not the leadership of the land. Jesus is the true vine.

Audacious.

Jesus is the true vine. Jesus is the true source of life. Not wealth. Not power. Not beauty. Not fame. Not family. Not intellect. Jesus. Jesus is the faithful son, the true Israel.

And we can be grafted into him.

We are branches, branches that can be rooted into the vine. We can bear good and abundant fruit. We can be, in him, faithful Israel.

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