Preamble from Brad: the B-Lines were a Vancouver-based punk band featuring two of my beloved nephews, Ryan and Bruce Dyck.

Question

I was listening to the B-Lines fastest song (“Wealthy Barber”) and realized the chorus is a Bible verse: “the branch that bears no fruit is cast into the flames.” They seem to be referencing Matthew 3:10, or perhaps Matthew 7:19? (But, in context, probably not John 15:6). Thoughts?

Response

What a fascinating question. Matthew 3:10 is a verse within the following paragraph, summarizing the ministry of John the Baptist (aka, John the Forerunner):

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Now normally, I would have automatically connected the pruning metaphor to Jesus’ teaching in John 15 (just because I’ve taught courses on John’s Gospel so many times). But now that I look at it, it is definitely more like the Matthew 3 passage from “Crazy Uncle John” (the Baptizer).
     Here’s the thing: as a prophet, John ‘saw’ or ‘felt’ the imagery of fire like previous fiery prophets who generally anticipated the fire of destructive consequences for Israel’s defiance (manifest usually as corruption or injustice). So it was as in the days of Jeremiah, who foresaw Judea’s downward spiral toward the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple by Babylon. Probably John foresees it happening again, this time by Rome, and the branches to be cut off are probably the corrupt temple establishment.
     But Jesus will leap beyond John, making two counter-intuitive moves with these fire prophecies, fulfilling them beyond a purely destructive end (though that comes too):
     First, the fire need not be Rome’s flaming catapults, but rather, Jesus’s baptism with fire is ultimately the outpouring of the fire of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2 – at Pentecost), who ignites the disciples with passion and boldness to expand Jesus’ kingdom message of love a global movement.
     Second, the fire need not be seen as destructive of individuals. Anyone can internalize the fire of judgment (as at the end of Mark 9) so that the branches being pruned aren’t people being burned up but rather, the immolation of personal attachments to self-defeating patterns that bind us, such as resentment, pride, selfishness, etc. Pruning is never intended for the destruction of the plant, but actually leads to greater ‘fruit-bearing’. Similarly, the pruning of inner transformation space for human flourishing. This is true in individuals and ‘orchards’ (the collective).
     That said, there’s always this double entendre contingent on response. The same fire that destroys can also purify. It depends on our orientation to it. Like the two thieves on each side of Jesus.
     All that to say, are the B-Lines messaging the dire warnings of Crazy Uncle John, or are they doing something more like you see with Jesus’ sense of pruning? It feels to me like they’re leaning toward the latter.
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Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More