“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2 (ESV)
Jesus didn’t know everything.* Neither do we. Accepting this as fact could put us further down the road to authentic unity than we have ever been. What does this have to do with unity in the body of Christ?
Unity depends on how we view other followers of Jesus. In these verses, the branches, which we later we find out “be us,” get lopped off for two different reasons. It’s not apparent that any of the branches, nor maybe even the Vine, have a say in which is removed and for what reason. That’s the Father’s call.
Unity depends on our response to an important question. Think with me. Jesus fully and always trusted his Father. I generously venture most of us, at some time, are able to trust God with a difficult situation and eventually come to see his better wisdom that is working all things “for the good of those who love him….” Now can we trust how the Father is working the same way in another person’s life? What thoughts do we entertain when we see the next branch on the vine being cut by the Vinedresser? Judgment or mercy. Love or self-vindication. If we can trust God’s work in another person, the possibilities for solidarity with that person multiplies.
Remembering that “we” are the branches, pruning a fruitful branch and cutting off a spent one is indistinguishable. We cannot know if the cutting is of a fruitful or fruitless branch. Both are acts of kindness from our Father. Even the verb used in the Greek text is basically the same for what is translated in one instance “cut” and the other, “prune.” Pruning a good branch and cutting off a spent one feels the same to the branch. It feels like affliction. However, if we harbor in our heart a judgmental thought about the reason that the other person is being afflicted, we have veered from the path of following Jesus and broken fellowship.
One the mount Jesus makes it plain, “Judge not that you be not judged.” There are many reasons to heed him. Unity, I assert, is one. Later Jesus would tell Peter directly, “take care of your own responsibilities and don’t worry about how I, the Lord, deal with your friend John.” Finally, Paul reinforces the principal in his second letter to the Corinthians: “no longer regard anyone according to the flesh. Even though we one regarded Christ according to the flesh we do so no longer. Therefore, whoever is in Christ is a new creation. The old has passed away behold the new has come.”
We are to look at, BEHOLD, the person who is a brother or sister in Christ as the new creation they are, not according to the past, even if present behavior in that person harkens back to some habituated behavior of the “old self.” See them and respond to them for who they are: a new creation. To do so is a strong preventative for disunity and broken relationships in the Body of Christ.
Holy Spirit, where have I recently observed the behavior of one of Christ’s follower and jumped to a premature judgment that what they are reaping is a result of a sinful sowing.
Wait for the Spirit brings this person to mind whose behavior your see as “less than mature” in Christ. Maybe this someone has offended you or hurt someone you love. Now choose to “behold” them, see them in your sanctified, grace-filled imagination, as the “new creation” they are, as if the “new” has truly “come.”
Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know; to love what I ought to love; to praise what delights you most; to value what is precious in your sight; to hate what is offensive to you. Do not allow me to judge according to the sight of my eyes, nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men, but to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual; and above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of your will. Amen. (attributed to Thomas Kempis)
*(Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:8)