I became a first-time homeowner seven years ago. The folks I grew up with rented their entire lives, and I did so until my 30s, so I didn’t really have a foundational appreciation of what homeownership was. However, I’ve thrown myself into it with great aplomb.
One aspect I hadn’t really appreciated was the idea of home improvements. There’s always something that needs doing. Sometimes it’s minor repairs: a squeaky door, that broken ledge in the refrigerator, the scuff of paint in the hallway. Sometimes it’s general upkeep: mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, rearranging the garage. Sometimes it’s sorting out more serious repairs: saving the money for a new roof, planning for when we can remove the dead tree in the back yard.
Regardless, there’s always something that needs to be done. There’s never a point — nor will there ever be a point — where I can say, “Whew! The house is totally taken care of… I don’t need to worry about that anymore!”
You know who else always has something they can be doing? Gardeners. Between weeding, watering, pruning, planting, transplanting, there’s always something to do in the growing season. And during the dormant months, you need to plan for the next growing season, as well as do certain chores that are easier than during the growing season, like trimming back errant trees.
In today’s gospel selection from John, Jesus offers his own gardening analogy: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit . . . I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
So, this reading makes clear the connection between God the Father, God the Son, what they do for us, and their expectations for us. We know we can’t live without God. We know that – to bear the fruit the Father wishes – we need to rely on God for support, for a foundation, for . . . everything.
But, as I noted earlier, there’s also an underlying current about growing here, too; namely, that it is a process. A good branch is expected to keep producing good fruit . . . indefinitely, really. And that fruit is expected to be useful on its own, whether feeding others or serving as the seed for a future plant.
When I’m working on my house, I know and understand that it will never be “perfect.” There will always be something that can be improved, something else that could be added on or replaced. But I can envision what a perfect house might look like, and my efforts move me – however imperfectly – toward that vision in my mind’s eye.
Similarly, gardeners cannot produce a perfect garden with their own hands, but they understand what that perfection might look like, what that final flawless grove might resemble.
God calls us to do what we can to bring the Kingdom of Heaven here to Earth. He calls us despite knowing that we cannot bring this Kingdom about by our imperfect selves, and that the perfect Kingdom already exists . . . in Heaven. We are called to look to Christ as an example and ultimate guide, knowing that we cannot attain that perfection on our own.
Jesus reminds us that the plan is to grow with God the Father and Christ the Son all the days of our lives, producing good fruit. It’s a process; we may stumble or grow incorrectly, but we trust in the vine grower — the Father — to set us right. And when we don’t feel like we have enough support, we should remind ourselves that the perfect true vine — Jesus — is always there to provide aid and guidance.
When working on a house or a garden, arguably the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. The same goes for growing with God; to refuse to grow and be with Him is . . . well, fruitless. He, as ever, works with our imperfections to help us bear good fruit. And, again, it’s a process — one that will hopefully last the rest of our lives . . . and beyond.