Food is all over in the Bible. If it isn’t food, it is a reference to growth. Our Exodus passage contains two passages today reflecting the Wandering in the Wilderness period: bitter water is made sweet and bread rains from heaven in the form of manna.
In John’s gospel, Jesus portrays himself as the true vine and his Father as the vinegrower. Branches from him that do not bear fruit are cut off, so that it can bear more fruit.
Much has been made of the words in this chapter. Many see it as focusing on the destruction of the unfaithful. They focus only on the branches that are pruned, and often spend too much time focused on words like “cleanse”. That is the Greek word for prune, and I don’t get too worked up about it.
What I know of pruning is that with great skill and good timing, the right pruner can turn even a mediocre vine into a source of immense production. When Jesus says, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you” he is saying that all those words in the two previous chapters have “grafted you into my vine.” He is declaring and expanding on the ideas that if you live into the love of Jesus, you will see love grow almost limitlessly.
To abide in his love means to have joy made complete. There is all this talk about keeping commandments, but one must not be tempted to think he means the Old Testament codes, for a verse later he declares, “And this is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.”
So this whole discourse on vine, branches, commandments, and cleansing is about loving more and more. In other words: Abundance in love
I don’t know if you have seen the movie Pay It Forward. Every time I read this passage I think of that movie. This little kid, I think in 8th Grade Social Studies, decides to make the world a better place by doing something radically life-changing for three different people. The only catch is that those three, then, instead of paying him back, must pay it forward by doing a nice thing to three other people. His utopian goal is partially realized as his mother, teacher, and grandmother all get touched by this forward payment.
This is the kind of love Jesus speaks of – a kind that moves forward and grows in love. That which does not produce love must be redirected into the ultimate goal. And here is the kicker – this is the essence of loving God. This is why we say as Christians that a community is essential.
Coming back to food, one of the central characteristics of the first three centuries of Christianity was equal sharing of food and wealth within the community. I don’t think this is a mistake. With things like the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the Lord’s Supper, and Manna in the Wilderness, Jesus set a pace for sharing, and Christians have always sought to show love through nourishment to all, without regard to class.
May today be one of growing in love. A concrete example of that may be to invite a friend over for dinner. Community, love, and food – the essentials. Being a Christian is fun, ain’t it!?