Image: Springtime in the Greenhouse, Inuvik
As the last of the snow and ice slowly melts away, thoughts are turning to the activities of spring which include the planting of a garden. The Inuvik Community Greenhouse is open for business and gardeners are well into preparing their plots for the growing season ahead. I am not much of a green thumb but I do have fond memories of watching my dad tend to the garden and small backyard greenhouse in our family home.
One of the lessons that stuck with me was about how my dad tended the cucumber vines which grew from floor to ceiling in the small hothouse that he had built himself. Cucumbers, grown in a greenhouse, are different from outdoor varieties in that only the female flower is necessary and the male flower must be removed to avoid bitter fruit. I watched my dad spending hours identifying and plucking those little flowers one by one to ensure an amazing harvest by the end of the summer. It seemed a bit destructive to pluck all those little blossoms but ultimately is was necessary and, in the hands of a discerning and knowledgeable vine grower, it increased the yield and made for a delicious crop.
This garden image carries over into the Gospel reading as Jesus uses the metaphor to talk about the relationship between himself, his Father and all those who believe in him.
For Jesus, it is the Father who tends the garden, watches over the growth and discerns what is necessary to cultivate and what needs to be pruned. Jesus is the vine. Jesus is the stalk upon which the fruit of the Father’s tender care will ultimately rely for growth. The vine provides the nourishment and the support and must sacrifice itself to the will and tender care of the gardener. We are the branches which cling to the vine. If we remain healthy and attached to the vine we will bear much fruit but if we become broken or unproductive we will be removed from the vine to wither, ending up as a dry stick on the hothouse floor.
The practice of this discernment regarding the pruning of twigs is witnessed in the early Church in a more literal sense in the discussion regarding the Mosaic Law of circumcision. In the reading from Acts we hear the debate was incurred by allowing Gentiles to be baptized into what had been, until then, an exclusively Hebrew faith community. We will not see in today’s reading the outcome of this discernment but we are left with Paul and Barnabas sharing the story of the Gentile conversion with the Church authorities in Jerusalem. Their ultimate defense will be, by their fruit you will know them. Paul will argue that despite being of a different “variety” the Gentiles belong to the same vine, which is Jesus Christ and they needn’t be clipped, so to speak.
As we consider these garden images we might ask ourselves; what is our personal relationship to the vine? Is it secure and healthy, are we receiving daily spiritual nutrition? Are we producing fruit, that is, utilizing our talents not just for our own gain but for the good of the whole community? As the gardener looks upon us with a careful eye, are we willing to be challenged to new growth in the Spirit?