Connected (1/4)

Connected (part I)

I think it’s been almost ten years now that I am connected with more and more friends that I haven’t seen sometimes for a long time through Facebook. Having lived in Switzerland, Brazil, the Netherlands and now Australia, this number of friends and acquaintances has grown a lot. Some of these are truly friends that I personally know well. Others are people that were part of my life for a season and last but not least, they are probably the biggest group, are the people that are merely ‘virtual friends’, or in other words, we know each other by name and there may be a very vague connection. But hey, we are talking about Facebook here…so in the virtual world we are now…friends.

There is a connectedness that is possible through the internet that brought people closer to each other. The world has truly become much, much smaller now. We are really living in a flat world or a global village as some like to call it.

There is an interesting theory that I came across and the theory asserts this: ‘It is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.’ Let me explain this. I have a friend who has a friend, let’s say in South Korea. This ‘friend of a friend’ has a contact (friend/relative…) in North Korea. This ‘friend of a friend of a friend just happens to know the cousin of the dictator with the funny haircut. So, this theory cannot be proven, but when we look at the reality of interconnectedness that has intensified so much due to social media, it may not be a very strange idea.

Yet, while people are much more connected in the virtual world, there is also an opposite process unfolding before our eyes that is much more astonishing. In  ‘Social Media, social life: How teens view their digital lives’ the researchers asked teens about their virtual practices and some of the conclusions were intriguing. Just a few observations:

  • 41% of the teens described themselves as “addicted”;
  • 43% of the teens wish they could unplug for a while sometimes
  • 36% of the teens wish they could go back to a time where there was no Facebook
  • 21% of them wish that their parents spent less time with their gadgets

So, on the one hand we see a growing connectedness globally and yet, when you zoom in on that connectivity, there is a eerie dissatisfaction among particularly those who seem to be the most connected generation of all times. This seems to be a oxymoron. The more friends you have, the happier you are, right? Not really.

The writer of the gospel of John wrote something very important about being connected. We can read it in chapter 15. Up till this point, Jesus and His disciples had been hanging out intensively. Jesus’ followers were excited about their Master whom they truly saw as their promised Messiah. Jesus, in their eyes, was the one who would rule and reign forever. So, even though on several occasions Jesus warned them about His imminent suffering and cruel death, they could not understand this fully.

And as the hours were passing by, just shortly before Jesus’ arrest in Jerusalem, Jesus comforted them with an amazing analogy. He said it like this:

1“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

Let’s pause here for a moment. Jesus is about to die, resurrect and go back to the Father. His disciples were disturbed by that, because they looked at Him with very different expectations. It was as if they were looking at Jesus through a filter. This is actually something we all do. We see reality as how we perceive it. Their filter was obvious; Jesus would not die or suffer, but rather conquer and set up His Messianic rule by kicking the Romans out of Israel. Yet Jesus time after time told a different story. He warned them that the story would have a very different twist. And now, just hours away from this reality, the disciples are discouraged. They may even have wondered why they were following this man in the first place.

In the past there were other attempts of men that would come to rule and reign, heralding the messianic age, but they didn’t last. The messianic hopes of Israel, and the disciples, rose to feverish levels. They wanted this new era of bliss and prosperity so badly and now Jesus, who performed the most astonishing miracles, would not bring in that kingdom?

It is in this moment of discouragement that Jesus paints a mental picture before His disciples’ eyes when He said that He was the True Vine. It was not an unfamiliar image at all to the Israelites. So, even though most of His disciples were poor, uneducated and outcast, they understood the ‘Vine image’ very well. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Israel being God’s vineyard (Is. 5). Israel was supposed to be the blessing to the nations, but they were not. In fact, they produced wild grapes, briers and thorns and not the good grapes you would expect from a vine, therefore, God judged Israel for not producing what it ought to produce.

Now Jesus applied this reality of being exactly the one that God intended to bring forth as a blessing for all the nations. He is the Vine. He is the One that God promised ever since Adam and Eve decided to disconnect from God by disobeying Him voluntarily.

Jesus is the one we as Christians connect with. It’s about connecting with a person. In fact, it is about connecting with the very Son of God, the second Person of the godhead Himself! Sometimes when I hear people talk about Jesus, I hear something very, very different. I hear things like:

  • Jesus was a good teacher. He taught many good principles that we can follow
  • Jesus showed a way of life like many other ways of life that are out there.
  • Jesus is the founder of Christianity which brought about good values for our society

One way or another people are able to make a person into an object. It’s now just about a ‘good principle’ or ‘another way of life’ or ‘good values’. Although Jesus did teach good moral principles, showed a new way of life and taught about a new set of ‘good values’, that still doesn’t touch the essence of why He even came to earth. He came to reveal who God really was and how people could connect with Him again.

Jesus is the true vine, but a vine also has branches. Here Jesus makes the connection between the disciples (and us) and Himself really obvious. To have life means to be connected to Him. He is the Giver of Life and outside of Him there is no life possible. That is a very exclusive claim and some feel very offended by this. So they turn a person into an ‘IT’ to frame Him into their worldview.

Now let me ask you this: Have you ever wondered why people feel so disconnected? Have you every thought about this? According to Jesus (not me), the disconnect exists when we are not ‘IN HIM’. It is like this branch that is cut of from the vine and still thinks that it is a healthy branch that can produce something. It cannot.

Jesus Christ is the True Vine while Israel was not. Still, Jesus raised up 12 Israelites that would be immersed into this new life ‘IN HIM’ so that they could teach it to others. The bible calls this discipleship and it has everything to do with becoming LIKE JESUS. We connect to a person and not an ‘it’.

What does this connection between the Vine and branches really produce? How is this connection even possible? And what does it result it? In my next blog I will answer these questions.