Once upon a time there was an old grape branch; it had been growing in the vineyard for a long time. One day a new branch was planted in the next row. The younger branch grew, developed more branches, and bore fruit.
Taking courage one hot summer day, the young branch looked up at the old branch and said in a squeaky voice, “It must be great to have people travel from miles around just to taste the sweetness of your fruit.”
The old branch nodded.
Feeling encouraged, the young branch continued, “I have been talking with the other branches in the garden, and they say yours is the sweetest fruit.”
The old branch smiled.
“When I grow up, I want to be just like you! How can I have sweet fruit like yours? I’ll do anything you say.”
As the old branch looked down on the young branch, he remembered the day when, as a young branch himself, he had asked an old branch the same question. In his baritone voice, he gave the young branch the same answer he had received years earlier: “Be willing.”
The young branch mused in frustration, Be willing? I tell him I’ll do whatever it takes to have sweet fruit, and all he can say is “Be willing”? Then he turned to another branch and began carrying on what he felt was a meaningful conversation.
Each day there was constant chatter in the vineyard as the branches shared the latest gossip and wasted the hours away by comparing the sweetness of their fruit. The young branch knew there was no other place he’d rather live.
One cool autumn morning, the young branch was awakened by the sound of the old brown, weathered gate opening. As he looked at the end of the row, in stepped the gardener. Normally when the gardener came to visit, the vines would clap their leaves together and shout with delight. But something unusual was taking place that day. A hush swept over the garden. The young branch glanced over at the old branch, who didn’t seem to be disturbed; so the young branch directed his attention back to the end of the row.
The gardener stopped by the first branch in the row; the young branch was sure he had come to compliment his friend on her fine growth. But watching intently, he saw the gardener bend on one knee, reach into his back pocket, pull out what looked like sharp scissors, and move toward his friend.
Instinctively the branch at the end of the row pulled her leaves back, and the young branch hear her plead, “No, no, why are you doing this to me? Haven’t I been sweet? Didn’t I bring honor to the garden? Please, please, don’t do this to me!”
Before the young branch could blink, his friend lay on the ground except for the nub. The young branch turned to the old branch and asked in a low, fearful voice, “What’s happening? Why did the gardener do that?”
The old branch did not respond.
The young branch strained to understand and then blurted out, “Oh, I get it! We thought the gardener liked that branch, but he really didn’t like her.”
The old branch responded, “No, that’s not true. In fact, what you just saw the gardener do proves he loves that branch.”
“Oh. I knew that. Let me try again. We thought that branch’s fruit was sweet, but it really wasn’t sweet.”
“That branch’s fruit was sweet.”
“Okay, okay; I know the real reason. That branch did something wrong, so the gardener is punishing her; he’s just not telling us why.”
The old branch answered. “The branch is not being punished. Listen carefully-your friend is being pruned. Not because she was trying to do things wrong, but because she was trying to do things right. Not because her fruit was not sweet, but because the gardener wants it to be even sweeter.”
“But that doesn’t seem fair!” protested the young branch. “Just look at her. She’s been cut down to the nub. Now all the people who come to taste the sweetness of her fruit will laugh and judge the branch.”
“Only those outside the garden who don’t understand will laugh and judge the branch.”
“Only those outside the garden who don’t understand? That branch didn’t understand! Did you hear her say, ‘Why are you doing this to me?'”
The old branch was quiet for a long time and then responded slowly, “Unfortunately, what you’re saying is true. It’s one thing when people outside the garden don’t understand, but when those inside the garden-especially the ones being pruned-don’t understand, it causes a lot of confusion, disappointment, and pain. Those branches down at the end of the row will have to listen to your friend murmur and complain until she blooms again.”
The young branch proclaimed, “Well, you don’t have to worry about being pruned. You have the sweetest fruit int he garden!”
“I want to be pruned.”
“You what? It must hurt, and you’re going to look funny.”
The old branch chuckled and replied, I must admit it’s quite uncomfortable. You see, my young friend, I know I look good to you, but I have a fungus growing on my underside that no one can see. if it remains, it will deminish the quality and quantity of my fruit. No, when the gardener comes to prune me, I won’t pull my leaves back. I’ll lift myself high in the air to make his job easier.”
Trembling, the young branch responded, “I don’t understand.”
With compassion the old branch replied, “Did you see that branch the gardener just tore off and threw over the fence? It didn’t belong in this garden at all and will be burned in a fire.”
“Wow!” exclaimed the young branch.
“When the gardener comes to prune you, remember that the gardener only prunes the branches that belong to him, which makes it an honor. He doesn’t prune you because you’re trying to do things wrong, but because you’re trying to do things right. It’s not because you’re not sweet, but because he wants you to be sweeter. And always remember, my young friend, the very fact that you’re being pruned means you will bloom again.”
Just then the gardener stopped by the old branch, and the young branch saw the old branch raise his leaves high in the air. He heard a snip, and the old branch lay on the ground except for the nub. Then the gardener turned to the young branch. His leaves were shaking, and tears rolled down his side, but with every ounce of strength he raised his leaves high in the air. He looked up into the gardener’s face and said, “Kind and gentle gardener, I’m willing.”
–P. Bunny Wilson, (Becoming God’s true Woman)