COLUMN: No cheap imitation

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, May 5, 2024

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You know when you’re getting something of substance, and you know when you’re getting something that’s not going to hold up. You know when you’re getting a cheap imitation and when you’re getting the real thing. 

Elizabeth and I were in New York City in the fall of 2012. We love to visit there. There’s so much to see and enjoy. But if you get in the Chinatown neighborhood on Canal Street, there are two things you can count on. 

One of them is a well-known and fantastic Asian restaurant. My administrative assistant from a previous church had a daughter living up there when we visited that time. She sent us deep into the back streets of Chinatown to find a small family-owned Noodles restaurant. Our reward was an experience we still remember today. 

Now, those of you who have been will also remember the other thing you can count on in New York’s Chinatown. The area teems with imitation, knock-off goods with the labels and logos of expensive, well-known companies. 

If it’s a Rolex, a Philip Stein, or a Patek Philippe watch you desire, you can find a variety to choose from. If it’s a Prada, Louis Vuitton, or Coach purse you desire, they abound. On the streets, someone will walk by you whispering brand names. The inferior stuff is always pretty close by. 

For the good stuff, you’ll probably have to follow someone down an alley or into a back room. I don’t recommend it. But that’s the way it works. 

By the way, that imitation Rolex watch won’t have finely tuned Swiss movement in it. Instead, it’ll have a quartz-driven Japanese movement. But hey, that’s why you can get it for $25 instead of $25,000. 

That Coach bag won’t be made of pure, top-grain leather. Instead, it’ll be made of the latest craze. “Vegan leather,” better known to you and me as Vinyl. But hey, that’s why you can get it for $50 instead of $500. 

They’re cheap imitations made to look like the real thing. They’re also unethical and contraband goods that violate many copyright laws and the good spirit of fair trade.  

Karoline Lewis reminds us that these two Sundays of Easter now take us into the middle of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, as read in John’s Gospel. Let’s be clear: Jesus didn’t warn his followers about falling for cheap imitations here. He warned them not to be cheap imitations.  

Early in Jesus’ life and ministry, we remember that we often heard him keeping things quiet and telling people that his time or his hour had not yet come. As John amps things up here, now Jesus’ hour has come. He’s saying “Goodbye” in his teachings here.

This is good news. He is inviting them to find real life here. He is inviting them to be the real thing so that they can experience the real thing. Life itself as intended in God’s kingdom.

The metaphor of the vine and the branches introduces a new image through which the disciples might view their relationship with Jesus. Jesus bolsters their confidence and ours by saying that He is the true vine. What he’s talking about is his connection with God the Father and all that God has been doing now for centuries in Creation. 

By being connected to the true vine, we stay in the flow of Creation’s Story as overseen by God the Father. All the nurture that a vine can provide, a true vine, is available through Jesus Christ.

Now, we’ve got some housekeeping to do. Because if Jesus is the true vine, then are there some vines out there that are not true ones? The implication is, of course, yes. 

In our culture, people idealize being self-made. But there is no such thing as a self-made Christian. Oh, it starts out as your decision, between you and God. Good Baptists believe that no one can do that for you. 

But after that, if you and I aren’t attached along with a bunch of other vines to the True Vine? We’re not going to be alive for too long. We’re just cheap imitations. 

No, if we are alive and healthy, then we are attached to a whole vine that made us — a true one — Jesus the True Vine, the real thing. Because for something as important as who God made us to be in the first place, no cheap imitation will do.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.