When I took an interest in viticulture (the growing of grapes), it was really just to better understand what it takes to produce superior wine grapes. As any chef would tell you, there is no substitute for using the highest quality base ingredients possible. As I investigated, I quickly realized several things. For one, growing grape vines is a complex pursuit. The vineyards that produce the best fruit will be located in special regions of the world where ideal conditions consistently allow for maximum growth. This means rainfall occurs during specific times of the growth season, humidity is balanced, where micro-climates and breezes keep away unwanted disease and mold, a place where temperatures are typically cool in the morning and warm during the day. Beyond this, the grower makes considerations for elevation, soil type, and choice of the ideal varieties that will grow with the longest ripening season possible in their region. But perhaps most importantly, the proper amount of sun exposure. This is so important that most vineyards are planted in rows running North and South. Then to further ensure efficient sun exposure, vineyards are usually planted on Southern facing slopes with the most prized grapes growing at the top of the slope. Trellising and pruning techniques are also geared toward ensuring ideal exposure to the sun so branches collect light and grapes will mature properly. There is always a single main branch which forms the base of the vine. Then several main branches are trained to grow from the main vine on a trellis. These fruit bearing branches are always one year old and will be removed after the season is complete and replaced with new one year old branches. During the season, branches that are not fruit bearing and shoot away from the main vine or branches are removed so more of the vines energy can be devoted to the maturing the grapes, instead of being wasted to support the excessive branching and foliage.
All these facts I found most intriguing because they reminded me of something I had read many times before but not fully appreciated. I thought about the words of Jesus when He said, "I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you. Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 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." John 15:1-5.
As I thought about these words with a new perspective, I had a new found appreciation for the illustration and its meaning. Jesus used an illustration of the cultivation of grapes to describe our relationship with Him. It was an illustration his disciples and followers could easily understand because of the role of the vineyard and it's importance to the culture of their day. It was also an illustration that could be applied and related to through the ages. As I read the words again, I was reminded that an abundant harvest requires work and a diligent and caring vineyard keeper (the Father). Jesus is the main vine (planted on the earth intentionally by Father), we are the branches, and the support system or trellis (the Church). It also reminded me our walk as Christians is not a solitary thing, it is growing along side others that will help encourage our growth. All the while, Jesus is the source of life for the main branches and He will be the source for the new branches - they will not be grown from the old branches. Also, while Jesus said He was the vine in the illustration, I can't help but think about how the branches and fruit need the sun. The sun is absolutely vital to the life of the vineyard. The entire growing process is inextricably dependant upon maximizing exposure of the branches to the sun so the fruit will be abundant, mature properly, and be full of flavor. As Christians, we must remain in the Son. Our relationship with Jesus is vital to our growth and maturity. Apart from him, we cannot produce fruit and we cannot live life as he intended apart from Him. Branches that are separated from the Son or Main Vine will wither and die. The truth of God's Word is truly amazing.