Reflection 4/25/18: Shaggy Gardens
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
I am a child of a long line of farmers and serious gardeners. I take a very benevolent attitude toward gardening. I believe that it is easy to kill something with too much pruning, and every garden has weeds. I also don’t believe that mulch and fertilizer are the ultimate answers to what ails every garden. I like gardens that are more shaggy than trim. I prune with rose clippers rather than hedge trimmers.
This week’s gospel is a reflection by Jesus on the vine, the vineyard, the vine keeper, branches, and fire. However, the focus really is not on gardening. Rather, the passage begins with Jesus’ making an “I am” statement. Now, these I-am statements occur throughout scripture. (An interesting footnote is that both God and Jesus make existential I-am statements, but much more rarely do they come from others.) When we hear Jesus starting his parable about the vine and the branches, his discourse beginning with an I-am means that our focus must be on Jesus, and pretty much everything else is a subset. It is not God that is directly declaring this teaching. Rather, it is Jesus. Always, Christians must look fixedly at Jesus.
This gospel passage is one of great subtlety, although it’s often been interpreted in a manner that is like the inexperienced gardener lopping off too many branches and killing the vine. By that I mean we have taken it as very obvious as to what a fruit is or is not; and, the difference between a branch that should be left alone, rather than taken off. The reason we’ve done this is our own obsession toward judgmentalism. We might profitably meditate on the beautiful verse from the book of Micah, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” as a guidance to how God might prune.
I think God is also one of those shaggy gardeners who tolerates lots of weeds, all with forgiveness and mercy.