Living next to vineyards provides opportunities to reflect on spiritual truths.
As far as the eye can see, sprawling vineyards blanket the rolling hills. Paved paths meander through the vineyards creating a hiker’s paradise. I live in Spiesheim, Germany, and this is the view from my window. Although my village has less than a thousand residents, it boasts of 11 wineries.
In addition to the obvious perks of beautiful countryside and great wine, living in the heart of German wine country has provided other benefits as well. Walking through the vineyards has not only deepened my appreciation for the vintner’s backbreaking work, but it also has brought to life the illustration of a vineyard as a tool to teach spiritual truths.
Using a vineyard to teach spiritual truths is nothing new. The word vineyard is used more than 120 times in the Bible (not including the use of vine and vines). The picture of a vineyard was something familiar to God’s people in both the Old and New Testament eras. Jesus himself uses this picture to teach his disciples (see John 15 and Matthew 20–21). In John 15:5, Jesus calls himself the vine. ”I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Even a quick walk through the vineyard reinforces the fact that the vine is the most important part of the plant. The vine connects the branches to an essential supply of water and nutrients. It supports both the single branch that escapes the vintner’s pruning in the winter and the many branches and heavy grape clusters in the summer. Without the vine, there can be no branches, no fruit, and no wine.
The same is true for us as Christians. Without our vine, Jesus, we would be spiritually dead in our sins. Without Jesus, there is no life, no hope, no fruit, and no future.
But with Jesus, ours is a totally different story. Through his innocent life and death in our place, we have new life, forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life. Through Jesus alone we are reconnected to our heavenly Father. And through faith in Jesus alone, we are given the privilege of bearing fruit in this sinful world. With Christ, we dead branches become alive and bear fruit as we serve him and others in our daily lives.
In spite of this new life, our daily battle with sin remains. Busy schedules and life’s trials drive us towards self-reliance instead of Christ-reliance. We squander opportunities to stay connected to our Vine, and often our sinful actions become a stench to those around us instead of a fragrant fruit of faith. But our Vine remains. Jesus waits for us to return to him in repentance and offers us his forgiveness, full and free. Through his Word and in the sacraments, he strengthens and nourishes his branches.
DEDICATION TO THE FRUIT OF THE VINE
Another walk through the vineyard reminds me of another spiritual truth. The vintner’s dedication to his vines is evident on a daily basis. The “putting” sound of his tractor is audible before I have left my comfortable bed in the morning, and the light of his harvester is visible after the sun has set. Although the vintner spends countless hours laboring in the field, it doesn’t end there. He must also labor in his cellar pressing the grapes, fermenting them, and bottling the wine. Yet, the vintner’s care is not perfect. An injury or sickness could keep him from his grapes, or the weather may diminish his harvest.
In contrast, consider the dedication of our heavenly Vintner. As our true God who does not sleep or slumber, his care is perfect. Sometimes, events in our lives may cause us to doubt God’s presence and care. Relationships end, family and friends move away, and death separates us from loved ones. Loneliness sets in, and we hear the voice of doubt whispering, “Is God really there?” The words of Psalm 139 answer that pesky voice of doubt with a resounding “Yes, he is!” “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (v. 8-10). The same God who created us holds us in the palm of his hand . . . this day and every day to come.
PRUNING THE BRANCHES AND THE HARVEST
A further walk through the vineyard brings an added spiritual parallel to life. As the seasons change, so does the manner in which the vintner deals with his crop. In the bitter cold of winter, the earthly vintner handles each plant in a seemingly cruel fashion. He prunes away all of last year’s growth until only the vine and one branch remain. Then, he takes that lone, spindly branch, points it downward, fastens it to the trellis, and leaves it for spring.
At the first sign of spring, dandelions and other wildflowers bloom rapidly around the branch. As they flutter in the breeze, they seem to mock the branch, which appears dead. As summer sets in, the branch finally blooms, grows, and thrives. Now it has sprouted many branches and clusters of grapes so large that three trellises are required to support their weight. In the late summer, the grapes are big enough to eat but not ripe enough to harvest. The vintner strategically places air guns around the vines, knowing the sporadic blasts of air will defend his crop from the circling birds. Finally in the fall, as the leaves on the branches change to beautiful shades of red and orange, it is time for the harvest.
We weather changing seasons in our earthly lives as well. We face times of pruning as we are brought down low in pain. We face times of doubt, persecution from the unbelieving world, temptation, and hardship as we await the harvest. Yet no matter the season—no matter what trials we encounter—we have a God who does not change. Although our heavenly Vintner may deal with us differently in different seasons, his purpose will not change. He will always deal with us in a way that benefits our eternal good—to bring us closer to him now and into eternal glory in the future. We have his promise on that: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Always and in all things!
Now, as branches of the Vine in this sinful world, we long for the harvest. We await the day when suffering is a distant memory and Jesus brings us to himself for eternity in heaven. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16,17).
As we struggle here on earth anxiously awaiting our glorious future, may we stay connected to the Vine who renews us day by day.
Katherine Martin and her husband, WELS Civilian Chaplain Joshua Martin, live in Spiesheim, Germany.
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Author: Katherine Martin
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 2014
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