This Oscar winning film’s leading character, Justin Quayle, loves to garden. He carefully tends to his plants, watering, feeding, and pruning them to bring them to their healthiest, most productive state. In this dark thriller, loosely based on a true story of corporate exploitation in Africa, the gardener himself awakens only after he is pruned of his most precious relationship. His wife begins exposing the corporate evil, and is murdered to keep the lucrative secret under wraps. The mild mannered British diplomat really only awakens to his life after all he holds dear is stripped away.
Not being a gardener myself, it is not intuitively obvious that cutting pieces off of a plant allows it to produce more fruit. From the fruit tree’s point of view, this must be awful. The gardener, who has provided soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight, shows up one day with a clipper in hand. This previously benevolent character marches up and begins amputating some of the tree’s favorite limbs. I’m certain the tree would not immediately sense that the gardener was subjecting him/her/it to this horror out of love. I think the tree would have difficulty, with its pulpy brain, figuring out how this was going to lead to greater joy and fulfillment later in the season.
Where am I going with this? When you read the wisdom texts of any culture, they tend to rely on agricultural stories to relay human wisdom. To us this seems edgy, mysterious, obscure, eastern. But if you think about it, these books were written in the pre-industrial age, and these stories would have been immediately accessible to their target audience. For those of us who think not having the current model of the latest igadget is retro, digging into agrarian stories can be challenging.
As a follower of Christ, I believe the Old and New Testaments hold inspired wisdom and truth. True to form, this requires unpacking agricultural parables. Finally getting to the point, one of my favorite analogies in the bible is from the New Testament book of John, quoting Jesus as he teaches:
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.... 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 you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples….
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 This is my command: Love each other. (emphasis added by me)
There’s a lot here: love, joy, fruit, glory, and……pruning?
Again, it’s not obvious to me that pruning is beneficial, and, thinking again as a tree, definitely not loving, joyful, fruitful, or glorious. But there it is.
Now there’s a lot of things in our lives that need to be snipped: greed, lust, gossip, and violence, are pretty clearly “branches that bear no fruit.” I get that. Cut those branches off, and from any perspective, that makes me a better person. In John’s Gospel, the Constant Gardener cuts those branches off. From the trees perspective, painful, but helpful. But now it gets really nuts: the Gardener starts snipping branches that are bearing fruit! I’m told by a gardener friend that pruning healthy productive branches, if done wisely and lovingly, dramatically increases the health and fruitfulness of the tree.
Now we’re getting somewhere. As happens over and over again, we see the perfect wisdom of the Creator in the simple patterns of Creation.
This has all been on my mind because we, as a family, are being pruned. Healthy, productive branches are being pruned. Snip after snip.
Great church community…snip
House, jobs, security….snip, snip, snip.
The good news is, we don’t have pulp brains, we can know that our Gardener is wise and loving, and knows that our greatest joy is in being productive branches of the Eternal Vine. This pruning, while not pleasant at the moment, is going somewhere; the very pain of leaving close friends makes us value those relationships even more; the jobs, house, and security that brought us joy also hold us back from our true purpose and greater fulfillment. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with friends, jobs, and houses: these are productive branches in our lives. It says in the story that God wants us to have “complete joy”! So we rest assured that the pruning is to that end, our greater joy as fruit of the Vine. As we get closer to moving to Kijabe, we look forward to sharing our joys and challenges with you.