We All, Like Plants
Jesus talks about a growing plant, a vine. When's the last time you saw a plant do anything to make itself grow? Or when did you ever see a branch decide one day to jump off of the main shoot and dry up out of stubbornness? Plants don't do stuff like that. They need elements to align or influence to converge in order to have anything happen within them.
I have a brown thumb. It's a fact that plants are safer if they grow under the care of someone far from me. But I've taken it upon myself to have another garden this year. The kids and I planted some bush beans, radishes, spinach, chard, and some pumpkins. We don't really care about anything but the pumpkins. Our pumpkin plants are getting bigger and taking over the garden. We're going to pull everything else up and make it a pumpkin patch. Yeah, it's so much more fun to watch pumpkins grow than bush beans!
The other plants weren't doing well anyway. Lots of bad things have happened. The beans are pasty and small, the radishes were tiny, and the chard was severely chewed. There are many factors that contributed to the demise of the plants in our vegetable garden. I couldn't tell you which one is the main culprit, but the pumpkins are the winner.
Plants are vulnerable to the elements. If they don't get enough nourishment they will start to wither or dry up. If they get too much water they will die or if they get a bad balance of nutrients in the soil they will die. If animals chew on them, they die. If the sun is too hot, they die. If I forget about them over in the corner of the room, yep, they die. Plants can really be a lot of maintenance and work, especially when they're dying. But they aren't the ones that do the work of changing their environment. They need God's natural laws or people to care for them if they are to survive and thrive. Sheep, too, but plants especially are dependent on so much outside influence.
Winds blow, heat bakes, and other creatures attack. The plant is vulnerable to being ripped limb from limb, literally, by outside forces. If we are the branches on a plant and our job is to stay on the plant, there must be something trying to pull us off. So many things come to mind! Temptations, the sin around us, guilt by association, the circumstances we were born into, and lack of spiritual nourishment. All of it can act as elements to pull us from our Vine.
Yet, we have one job: to stay put. The storm rages and our house needs to be solid. The lies whisper to us and we need to stay true. The devil lures us and we need to resist. There is plenty for us to do as branches, but it's more about holding ground than crusading. People get burned out so easily by giving into the distractions around them. The well-meaning distractions are the most dangerous. Those are the ones we convince ourselves we're doing for Jesus but that He never led us into doing. It's when we sacrifice obedience to His Spirit for personal glory in our abilities that we start to remove ourselves from the Vine. The connection becomes weak and feeble and brittle. The nourishment stops because we have the power to refuse it.
I suppose that's how we differ from plants: the will within us to refuse God's life. The original sinful choice to reject God's way in order to pursue our own. That's what stops the flow of life to our branch. That's the only internal factor that plants don't inherently have. Jesus spoke to a fig tree once as if it were a person. He addressed it in Matthew 21 as "you" when He said, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" Immediately the tree withered. Was He casting judgment on a part of His creation that doesn't make choices? The fig tree was a symbol just as the story of the vine and branches were. The "branches" that wither and fall off are the ones that refuse Life. The "fig trees" that aren't ready for their Master to come and ask of them their fruit do not belong to Him and are fit for the fire as well. Abiding every moment means being ready every moment to give an account to your Maker.
Is it humbling to be referred to as a plant? Talk about vulnerable! I thought it was humbling enough to be called a sheep. But sheep eat plants! Well, they eat grass anyway. We are at the mercy of so much and yet we think we're so powerful. Our choices only matter for what they mean to God. The other choices are chaff ready for the fire. The choices to abide and to be ready are the ones that matter most. They are our only work.