“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing,”
© 2017 Lynn Abbott
No one ever doubted Grandma’s piety. In a quiet, unobtrusive way, it found its way into her everyday life.
Each day dawned with God as evidenced by the well-worn, black leather Bible sitting next to a large bowl of candy lemon drops on the small table beside her favorite chair.
As a child, of course, I was most interested in the lemon drops. And somehow, even as an adult, I continue to associate my grandmother’s favorite candy with faith.
After all, she subscribed to the Puritan principle: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
So convinced was she that she shook her head in perplexity whenever Mary and Martha were mentioned.
However, I believe that gospel account is less about housekeeping and more about grace.
Jesus had come to see Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And Martha prepared a meal and looked after the needs of her guests. No problem there. I get that.
I imagine Grandma standing at the pearly gates and doggedly insisting that Simon Peter submit that glorious entry to a white glove test.
Martha, however, began to grumble. Perhaps, she believed Mary was inconsiderate. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha served.
In what appears a resentful tone, Martha asked Jesus to encourage Mary to help. And Jesus replied, ‘Martha, Martha. You are worried and bothered by many things. As for Mary, she has chosen the better part.’
This snapshot becomes clear when we consider the overall context of Jewish life at the time of Christ. Truly, life for a first century Jew was filled with laws… with doing many things.
The religious leaders had divided every God-given principle into miniscule components.
Rules existed for every aspect of their lives. Yahweh’s followers were “worried and bothered by many things.”
In contrast, Christ called his followers to a life of relationship rather than rules (Matthew 22:37-40). He replaced religious effort with relationship’s abiding.
Yet, even as an adult, I continue to associate my grandmother’s favorite candy with faith.
Grace trumped all manner of complex ‘Do’ lists. The Prodigal returned to an undeserved feast; the tax collector known as Zacchaeus entertained the Messiah.
Of course, if one heals lepers freely, without strings attached, one takes the risk that only a single leper will return in gratitude. Yet, to the gracious God of the universe, the love of a leper is worth it.
The Shepherd eagerly seeks a solitary lost sheep.
In this, I see the extraordinary difference between my way and God’s. My human nature tends to complicate things. I look for ways to self-improve. I create my “Do” lists. True, my lists differ from those followed by first century Jews; however, I gravitate to lists even so.
I hate to admit it, but sometimes, like the Prodigal’s older brother, I define my relationship with Abba in equations. I even expect guaranteed outcomes if I follow self-imposed formulas. I struggle, straining to “grow.” Certainly, I try “doing” my way into Christ-likeness.
But in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit gently reminds of Christ’s analogy of the vine (John 15). Connected to Him, you and I grow. We produce fruit. It isn’t self-betterment or self-righting. And so there resentful comparisons have no place.
When I abide or rest in Him, all of that self-effort and self-focus is unnecessary because my eyes are on the Gardener. I can’t work my way into Christian maturity. Yet, if I will surrender to Him, He tends to it. He promised.
After all, the branches of a vine, or the blooms of sunflowers do not grunt and strain, or chant, “I must grow, I must grow.” The branch does not complain about the water provided or demand another diet. It doesn’t suggest alternative pruning methods to the Gardener.
Grace trumps all manner of complex ‘Do’ lists.
Branches and flowers simply absorb what the Master Gardener provides. They yield to the Master’s plan moment-by-moment.
It isn’t complicated. Grace invites me to discover what it means to abide.
There, in His presence, I find rest. Sitting at His feet, I yield to God’s work in me both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). And His Spirit cultivates Christ in me.
Then, in God’s time, my Savior’s love and grace blossom through me; I give to others as a result of His love working in me rather than in response to any “Do” list.
And that’s why, for me, a relationship with the God of radical grace does not mean enduring a white glove test, but rather sitting and savoring His Words of Life . . . and enjoying a side dish of lemon drops.