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JOHN 15: 1-8
5th Sunday of Easter

Of all his "I am" sayings, "I am the true vine" maybe has the most cutting edges to it. On a personal level, I've just finished cutting back a large amount of bougainvillea. It's a tough customer. The thorns are so sharp they cut you to pieces as you do the same to the vine. One night I had to 'bathe' myself in bright orange war-paint (antiseptic) mapping out a network of really nasty cuts! Also, bougainvillea is so resilient you can just about massacre it & it will come back again & flower better than ever.
               In fact I prune most things confidently, but not grapes! Grapes are different - well, for me, anyway! I never prune them confidently or skillfully enough, despite the instructions in learned manuals. In the end, it doesn't matter much. The parrots that abound where we live get most of the grapes anyhow, & we end up with my wife making verjuice for cooking from the few sour green grapes they miss, & dolmadas for eating using the leaves. We are (almost) content with our lot.

Some of pruning's cutting edges are that it makes for new growth, strengthens the plant, gets rid of disease (the word Jesus uses means both pruning & cleansing) as well as providing new cuttings.  Some of the best wine growing areas in Australia are only an hour or so away from our home. We've stood & watched them burning the off-cuttings just as Jesus says. The success - or failure - of these wine-making ventures depends upon a host of factors, not least skilled pruning at the appropriate time.
            Those who produce table grapes must take the same care. (As a red wine drinker note how I place the wine growers before the table grape growers!) In Jesus' scenario everything has to be wrung from a harsh environment. There's little margin for mismanagement in a small plot of vines. How much margin do we have for mismanagement in our life, our relationships? What pruning needs to be done? If we can't do it well enough, whom do we need to call in to help us?

            Jesus trusts & expects us all to be 'expert' enough, & available enough to help each other in this regard out in life's margins. Of course some of us need professional help, but more of us just need sanctified common sense, & to apply it. (Is Jesus not the great example of that? A great gift of the Spirit, if an unlisted one!) Every scrap of Jesus' imagery translates easily into everyday life. There's nothing at all complicated - there rarely is - about what he says about himself as vine & ourselves as branches. All we have to do is follow his advice better than I follow the advice of my pruning book.