For those who know my immediate family, it is pretty obvious that my wife has excellent skills in growing things. In fact, our house – inside and out – sometimes seems to be overflowing with plants, flowers, trees, and even cacti. Bumping into a shelf or a table is as likely to spill dirt on the carpet as it is electronics and other technology (which are what the rest of us collect).
However, the care of a gardener for plants is a lot like the care of a mother for a child (which my wife also excels at). While people and plants aren’t the same thing, the idea of cultivating either one (and helping it to grow into something strong, healthy, and productive) has some similarities to the other.
In Romans 11, there’s an image of the vine and the branches that sounds something like what Jesus said in John 15:1-8 (where He is the vine and His disciples are the branches).
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Romans 11:17-21 NIV
A couple of commentaries [ref. The Lookout and Cottrell, cited below] suggest that Israel (perhaps the historical, faithful part of Israel) is the root. That makes sense to me, since Jesus came from the nation of Israel. As a result, even if the metaphor here in Romans doesn’t happen to be exactly the same as what Jesus described in John, there seems to be significant overlap.
However, God the Father doesn’t just let the branches grow randomly. Like a gardener, he prunes healthy branches (getting rid of what doesn’t help them grow according to His will), and cuts off branches that aren’t producing fruit.
Here in Romans, we see another gardening example: grafting in branches (perhaps onto the true vine, per John 15:1). And, this distinction between the two teachings makes sense: in John 15, Jesus was talking to a Jewish audience (apparently His disciples), who were already part of God’s chosen people. Their options were to bear fruit or not bear fruit. In this part of Romans 11, though, Paul is talking about Gentiles (and Jewish people who didn’t follow Jesus at first) who had the choice to remain apart from Jesus, or to be grafted into the family of God.
So, may those of us who are connected to Jesus Christ celebrate that we are connected to the source of life (whether you have remained a native branch, or were grafted in). However, we must do so with the understanding that we are not the gardener. We are just branches, who are expected to grow and produce fruit.
Let’s continue to look at this concept more in the next article…
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 20, 2022
- The Lookout, March 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.