Da Vinci Code
Please turn in the Pew Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 15, and follow along as I read verse 5. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
The Da Vinci Code is a mystery novel by American author Dan Brown. Published in 2003, It is a worldwide bestseller with more than 60.5 million copies in print (as of May 2006). It has been translated into 44 languages. People Magazine says that it is “a pulse-quickening, brain-teasing adventure.” The Denver Post says, “Thriller writing doesn't get any better than this.”
In the church for the last couple of years, the novel has been the topic of heated discussion. Some say that at least it has got people thinking about religion. Others forget that it is only fiction and spend a lot of time repudiating the religion found in the novel. An army of writers has been at work producing Da Vinci Code Decoded, The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code, Secrets of the Code, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Exploring the Da Vinci Code, and Cracking Da Vinci's Code. Entire forests have been cut down to publish books about Dan Brown’s novel.
I read the novel because I wanted to see what all the excitement was about. I do not particularly like Dan Brown’s style of writing, but I found the novel to be entertaining. I liked the puzzles and the mystery, and there is enough action to keep you interested. I bought the book on sale, and I suppose I got my money’s worth.
Now, as you probably know, the movie has come out, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as religious symbology expert, Robert Langdon. I went to see the movie this week. I figured it was not fair for me to criticize it without actually seeing it.
The story begins with the murder of a historian at la Louvre in Paris, and the discovery of a chain of cryptic codes and puzzles. At the heart of the mystery is a secret that goes back to Leonardo Da Vinci, and even earlier. Actually, the secret goes back to Jesus Christ.
Langdon becomes a suspect in the murder of the historian, and is chased through la Louvre, then across the city of Paris, and finally into England. As he runs from the law, he searches for the true killer, as well as for the ancient secret that the historian was trying to protect.
The secret of The Da Vinci Code is this: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. They had a child, and they began a bloodline that continues to the present day. Now if you do statistics, you realize that if Jesus had biological descendants, practically everybody in the world today would be related to Jesus. But the book ignores that.
However, one interesting question in The Da Vinci Code involves the identity of the disciple seated at the right hand of Jesus in Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. Is the feminine-looking figure in this picture the disciple John or Mary Magdalene? The Da Vinci Code wants us to believe that the figure is Mary, and both the novel and the movie say that Mary was not only a disciple of Jesus, but the wife of Jesus.
Another controversial idea centers on the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is traditionally the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper to institute the sacrament that we now call the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. In Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper, there appears to be no cup in front of Jesus. According to the conspiracy theory of The Da Vinci Code, that is because the Holy Grail is not a cup at all. The Grail is actually Mary Magdalene herself, because she was the vessel that carried the child of Jesus.
So the Da Vinci Code is that John is actually Mary, and Mary is the Holy Grail. Never mind that 2000 years worth of Christians never heard of any of this, we have a secret and a conspiracy, and that makes for good entertainment, but not necessarily for anything resembling truth.
The Da Vinci Code raises a number of provocative questions, but it does not have answers. Take the feminine-looking figure next to Jesus in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting. Art historians tell us that teenaged boys were commonly portrayed like this during the Renaissance, and, before Dan Brown, practically everyone agreed that this was young John. If this was not John, then where is he in the painting?
Another thing. The absence of the Holy Grail in the painting does not imply that Mary Magdalene was a human vessel. There is no logic in that.
As it turns out, the best way to crack the Code is to go straight to Leonardo Da Vinci's source: the gospels. In John 15, we have another code, the code of the vine. It is not actually a code; it is a connection. Jesus is the True Vine, and every one of us is a sign of his fruitfulness. To be connected to Christ has nothing to do with a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary, but everything to do with trusting in Jesus and living in Jesus.
Jesus did have children, no doubt about that. Every believer is a child of Jesus. This is the awesome secret that the church has possessed for some two thousand years. Through Jesus, we are part of a divine family. This family is held together not by a biological connection but by a love connection.
The society of first century Palestine was primarily agricultural, so it is natural that Jesus would use an organic metaphor to describe this love relationship.
Jesus explains the metaphor. In chapter 15, both verses 1 and 5 begin, "I am the vine." Jesus is the vine. Verse 1 also tells us who the vinegrower is—the Father—and verse 5 identifies who we are. We are the branches. So we have this image of God working his garden; God has produced this vine, Jesus, and we are the network of branches growing from the vine.
Grapevines will grow in the wild without a gardener, but they do not thrive without a gardener. They will not bear much fruit without care and pruning. If we are the branches of the grapevine, the implication is that we need the gardener. We need God. We can somehow scrape along in life without God, many people do, but to be fully ourselves, we need God.
God is the most valuable thing in our lives. But that does not mean that we are without value.
The metaphor of John 15 is that we are like the delicate, intertwined branches of a grapevine, growing through each other so that no branch can be separated from any other. All the branches are equally important to the vine, and the vine nourishes the branches, and ties them together as a meaningful entity.
However, the real importance of the branches of a grapevine is that they bear grapes—the reason the gardener grows the vine and the branches is to have grapes--which is a metaphorical way of saying that our reason for existing is to bear fruit through Christ for our gardener God. John says, in verse 2, that branches that do not bear fruit are removed by the gardener, and branches that do bear fruit are pruned in order to bear more fruit. God works with us and in us to enable us to live as he has called us to live.
John has some more lessons for us in this vine analogy. In verse 5, Jesus says, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The branches of the grapevine are able to bear fruit because they are connected to the vine. Even so, we are empowered for godly living through our connection with Christ. The negative of this is that a branch that loses its connection with the vine withers and is thrown out and burned. And people who do not abide in Jesus will find that their faith has withered.
In John’s gospel, relationship is everything. Chapter one verse one says, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Throughout the Fourth Gospel, the relationship between Jesus and God is emphasized, as well as Jesus' relationships with others, and his disciples' relationships with each other. The fruits that these relationships are expected to bear are works of love. Thus, in John 14:12, Jesus says, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact.”
The gospel of John uses this code of the vine, but John wants to be absolutely certain that we understand this “code.” The secret is: abide in Jesus.
Jesus is the one who offers us "living water" when we are feeling dried out and lifeless (John 4:10). Jesus is the one who nourishes us with his teachings when we are wandering aimlessly along a dangerous path. Jesus is the one who supports us when we fall, forgives us when we sin, and even breathes new life into us when we are feeling dead inside. Our rootedness in Jesus is what gives us the ability to be truly productive, because no good can come from a branch that is broken off, withered, and dead.
The mystery then is all about our connection with the True Vine, Jesus Christ. Jesus says we should stay connected, "because apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Also, branches on the Jesus Vine know that it is better to bunch together than to stand out. The True Vine has always been healthiest when its branches have grown together instead of shooting off in a thousand different directions. Brilliant loners like Robert Langdon may serve as dashing heroes in novels like The Da Vinci Code, but they don't make much of a contribution to a community that is trying to bring good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and help to the sick. To do the work of Christ requires commitment and coordination, not occasional flashes of brilliance and daring individual efforts. To be true disciples, we need to love one another, just as Jesus has loved us (John 15:12).
Branches are expected to be united by their fruitfulness, not divided by their distinctive gifts. As God’s people, we have a wonderful variety of gifts. But as the Apostle Paul says in I Cor. 13, all our gifts are nothing if we do not have love. Our job is not simply to use our god-given talents, it is to be fruitful in Christ. It is to do the kind of works that Christ would do if he were in our place and time.
In effect, John is saying that we should forget worldly ideas about greatness. True greatness has nothing to do with having your name on TV or having a million bucks in your pocket. To be truly great you only need a heart full of the love of Jesus and a determination to apply that love. Greatness comes through loving service, and we are empowered to that service by the True Vine, Jesus Christ.
In a surprising way, one of the characters in The Da Vinci Code serves as a warning to us about the danger of becoming disconnected from the Christ Vine. Silas is orphaned as a young man, falls into a life of crime, and spends time in prison. After escaping, he finds refuge with a young Spanish priest who goes on to become the head of a strict Catholic group called Opus Dei. Under this priest's guidance, Silas is given a mission that is said to be critical to saving the church. His mission is to murder four leaders of a group called the Priory of Sion and obtain a secret "keystone." Silas commits these crimes reluctantly, knowing that murder is a sin, but he carries out his mission because he is told that his actions will save the Roman Catholic Church. In the end, he learns that he has been duped, and that he has broken any connection he had with Christ. He goes from being a menacing character to a truly tragic figure. In the book, this is not in the movie, but in the book, as Silas is dying from his wounds, he turns to Christ and seeks forgiveness
Silas lost his connection and became a monster. What is the message for us? Keep connected to Jesus. Keep connected to the community of faith. Keep on doing the works of Christ. As I said earlier, it is not a code, it is a connection, the Christ connection. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
|HOME||About YARPC||Sermons||What's New||Prayer Center|
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 09/02/06