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Growing in the Way

I’m not much of a gardener. I love a nice garden, I do, so I leave all the important planting and growing stuff to Lori. I’m just the mow, prune and shovel department. Even then, when I do what I call “pruning” the bushes and trees in our yard, Lori usually reacts with horror and disappointment that I “killed” them. Not so far, though, and they all come back bushier and heartier than before.

Our gifts might be dramatically different, but it seems we both have a hand in helping the garden grow. We all do, metaphorically. Whatever our gifts, the world needs you, just as you are, to share yours. We are both gardeners and garden. Diversity in gardeners is equally as important as diversity in flowers, plants and trees, in landscaping and protecting nature – the metaphor’s endless.

We didn’t always think so, and many still don’t. It can be scary to engage a world of difference and for some, the garden is more a jungle with dangers lurking everywhere. It seems safer to think that the one vine is my vine.

It seems likely to me that was on the mind of the author – or authors – of the Gospel of John when they recorded Jesus telling the disciples “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower … I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:1, 5). John’s gospel appeared at a time the fledgling community of the followers of Jesus was struggling. There was lots to fear and lots to doubt and here, in his farewell speech to the disciples before he’s arrested, here’s Jesus offering not only comfort and consolation but encouragement and certainty. I am the true vine, believe in me, be part of the vine and bear fruit because those who don’t will whither away and be cast into the fire. Some still preach the same exclusiveness: there’s only one way and we are following it.

After all, this is the farewell speech that begins with Jesus telling the disciples that they know the way to follow. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That seems pretty clear, and one could certainly understand why they might want to say that to their community. But what if, instead of meaning to reinforce the personality of Jesus, they meant to offer an invitation to all with the openness of a way that all could follow? What if, when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life,” it meant exactly that: there is a way and that way is true and life giving. That way is love. I’ve showed you how to live it, now you show others and they’ll show others. It’s the way that’s important, not the name. That’s what brings you closer to God.

If we could understand those opening words like that, then the words that follow would reinforce that way that is true and life giving: love one another as I showed you to love. That’s as inclusive as can be.

Most translations of this passage say that the way to do that is to “abide” in the way. We may use that word differently now, but here it means to so immerse ourselves in love that it permeates all our living. That is the way. In The Message, Eugene Peterson says Jesus invites us to “live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you” (John 15:4). That’s the depth of the way. We may call it Jesus, but I think Jesus would just call it love.

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