I learned a few new facts about grapevines this year that really amazed me. I think most Christians have been told, many times, the general principles of grapevines and pruning and how they relate to our spiritual growth, but I found out a few new things this year that made it even MORE interesting.
I’ve been TRYING to get a grapevine in my yard to produce for a few years, and never had any success. Then a friend who owns a small vineyard gave me some tips this spring, and really surprised me with some details.
The thing about grapevine pruning is that it’s an extremely particular process. You can’t just prune it to the shape you want, because it likely won’t produce any fruit unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
Getting the vine to take the SHAPE he wants is the vinedresser’s first challenge. Vines, of course, by definition are messy things and go every which way during the growing season. But the vinedresser has to be patient with the plant, letting it “ramble” a bit, even if it’s not growing into the desired pattern. If he trims it at the wrong time, he can damage the entire plant. However, that tolerance for misbehavior (so to speak) ends at the pruning season, when the vinedresser trains the vine exactly where he wants it to go during the next growing season.
What I didn’t know is that the vinedresser cannot simply force the plant into a desired shape without ALSO taking into account its fruiting characteristics.
Here’s the thing: a grapevine simply doesn’t produce fruit on “first year” canes. If you trim the plant back to only the trunk you want to train into a specific shape, you won’t get ANY fruit. You ONLY get fruit from canes that spring from “second year” canes – on the cane that shoots off an already-established cane.
In other words, the vine demands a level of maturity before it can produce fruit.
So to ensure both correct form or shape, AND successful fruiting, the vinedresser must be VERY selective in which canes he leaves and which he prunes. Sometimes to produce fruit, he leaves a cane that is NOT going where he wants the plant to ultimately grow, knowing that he can prune it off next season, and reshape the plant, while selecting a different cane next year for the fruit-bearing second-year cane.
And for any significant fruit to be borne, he must, MUST, prune fairly deeply every single year. It’s simply not optional. An undressed vine quickly loses potency and its fruit either falls or doesn’t get enough sun to ripen properly.
Finally, that dormant season is incredibly important. That’s when the vine draws the nourishment from the canes that now wither and dry, specifically to build its roots out over the winter. If you prune too early, before that nourishment is used, no growth happens for the next year.
So it’s a very delicate dance. And the vinedresser is infinitely patient with the plant, allowing temporary misbehavior for the sake of rich fruit, but knowing exactly what the consequences will be for that cane (and the whole plant) the next year. He must also be willing to cut in a way that looks harsh at first glance, but is ultimately perfectly kind and skillful to a knowledgeable observer. His vision for the plant WILL come to pass, but only if he is equally patient and skilled and firm in his application of discipline to the plant.
I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to see how much like a vinedresser the Lord is in His treatment of us. And it’s likely that most of the people who heard Jesus’ parables fully understood these principles. I’m delighted to learn just a bit more of the richness of the Scriptures, even in a simple illustration.