Originally posted April 30, 2012, at Praying the Gospels. Republished with permission of the author.
“This little piggy went to market;
this little piggy stayed home;
this little piggy had roast beef;
this little piggy had none;
and this little piggy went __ all the way home.”
Parents are good at adapting their language to communicate at the level of those they are talking to. It reminds me of the time when my wife and I were much younger and our kids were only toddlers. We were walking barefoot through the house, and Barb stubbed her toe on the corner of a cabinet. She sank to the floor, grimacing in pain, grabbing her foot. I ran over and asked where it hurt, and she managed to say, “It’s the little piggy that ate the roast beef.” Everyone knows which toe that is. Parents learn to talk in images that their audience can understand and relate to.
Jesus, too, was a master of talking in visual images that his audiences could relate to. In one of his sermons Jerry Schmalenberger, an ELCA pastor, says that just outside Nazareth you can see grapevines on both sides of the road. He describes them as short stumps of vines lying close to the ground and propped up with a rock to keep them off the hot, red soil.
“Many of us visualize grape arbors that are full of green leaves, full of plump grapes,” Jerry says. “In Israel it’s different. The natural conditions aren’t as easy to grow in. Jesus grew up with those vines all around his little village. He knew how you had to trim the woody branches to encourage the plant to be more productive. And to be healthy and abundant, the branch must remain solidly connected to the source of its life to produce beautiful fruit. Jesus used this analogy to show us what it means to be his followers.”
The short explanation is that we must be connected to Jesus Christ if we are going to be fruitful. What good are you or I to God if we aren’t producing grapes? By grapes we mean the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, goodness, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Branches that are not connected to the vine wither and die.
We had a partial image of that in our county three years ago. We could drive down the road and see the remains of tree limbs damaged from an ice storm. They were lying close to the tree trunk, but they didn’t have any leaves on them. That terrible event in their lives, the ice storm, separated them from the source of their life.
They didn’t have any way of receiving the nourishment and water to produce leaves and then buds and blossoms that could turn into fruits and seeds that multiply themselves. They lost their connection to the trunk that was able to give them life.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “God has designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing (as peace apart from God).”
The ice storm also damaged many trees where you could see some limbs, barely joined to the shaft of the tree. The storm did a number on them, and they’ll never be the same, but they managed to keep a grasp on the trunk of the tree, enough to receive the lifeblood that flows from it. And today, even in a broken state, they now have green leaves and blossoms that are bearing fruit and seeds. They are connected to the source from which life flows. They are making it.
Find a link to Paul Meier’s blog Praying the Gospels at Lutheran Blogs.