Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.
What is Jesus talking about here? Let’s look at this on several levels and think about it for a day or two.
Let’s start by looking at the key word: “prune.” The Greek is “kathairō.” Strong's defines it as “to cleanse, of filth impurity, etc, to prune trees and vines from useless shoots.” Modern day farmers have the same understanding. “Pruning can be defined as the removal of plant parts to obtain horticultural objectives.” Pruning, Training, and Grape Canopy Management (Iowa St. Univ. 2002).
Let’s move onto the purpose. Why prune? Jesus tells us the ultimate reason: “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” That’s consistent with agricultural practice. “The purpose of pruning is to obtain maximum yields of high quality grapes and to allow adequate vegetative growth for the following season.” Pruning Grapevines (Iowa St. Univ. Extension 2000) That has to be done because “left unattended, grapevines can become unruly, and fruiting will be poor due to overproduction of vegetation.” Basic Principles of Pruning Backyard Grapevines (Ohio St. Univ. Extension 2004). Indeed, a vine’s fruitfulness can be diminished by more that 90% if it is not pruned. Pruning Grapes in the Home Garden: Some Basic Guidelines (Washington St. Univ. Extension 2014).
So what does pruning involve? It is the extensive cutting away of old branches so that new, more fruitful, branches can grow. That is essential because the vast majority of grapes come from new, rather than preexisting, branches. Although the method and extent of the cutting varies in different varieties of grapes, it is significant in all kinds—about 85-90% of old branches are removed. The results are dramatic:
Pruning Grapes in the Home Garden: Some Basic Guidelines. The cutting has real impact on the plants, although they eventually bounce back, they often “bleed” significant amounts of sap right after pruning. Pruning Grapevines (Iowa St. Univ. Extension 2007) It is an annual process, experts advise to “make sure your grapevines are pruned each year[.]” Basic Principles of Pruning Backyard Grapevines (Ohio St. Univ. Extension 2004). Pruning precedes fruitfulness; it is done in late winter or early spring. Pruning Grapes in the Home Garden: Some Basic Guidelines.
How does it work? In two ways. The first and most important is to let more sun reach fruit bearing new branches. That allows them to better perform photosynthesis. Pruning Grapes in the Home Garden: Some Basic Guidelines. Second, it also directs sap to fruitful, rather than old and non-fruit bearing, branches.
That’s it for now. Let’s think about John 15:1-3 in light of those facts and see what the Holy Spirit shows us.