The Vine

Jesus-Apostles-vine-branch2This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday in Easter (Year B) and the reading is from the Gospel of John 15:1-8. You can read a complete commentary here. Our gospel (vv.1-8) is the first portion of the remarkable “Vine and Branches” metaphor (John 15:1-17) from the Farewell Discourse following the Last Supper (John 14-16). Next Sunday we will hear vv.9-17. The Farewell Discourse is the centerpiece of the three sections that comprise the events of the Last Supper:

The Farewell Meal (13:1–38)
The Foot Washing
Discourse by Jesus on Communal Service
Jesus Prophesies His Betrayal
The Love Commandment and Prophecy of Peter’s Denial
The Farewell Discourse (14:1–16:33)
“I Will Not Leave You Orphaned” (14:18)
“I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (14:6)
“If You Love Me, You Will Keep My Commandments” (14:15)
“Get up, let us go” (14:31)
“Remain in My Love” (15:9) ——–  our reading
    “I Have Chosen You Out of the World” (15:19)
“It Is Better for You That I Go” (16:7)
Jesus’ Farewell Prayer (17:1–26)

The Farewell Discourse, as a whole, points to an event whose arrival is imminent—that is, Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. In John 14–16, Jesus explains the significance of his departure to his disciples and points them toward the life that they will lead after all these things come to pass – the very life described in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Before beginning to look at the “Vine and Branches” it would perhaps be good to  consider the Farewell Discourse as a whole. Gail O’Day [753] provides a wonderful context for our gospel in her summary of John 14:

“It is the wonder of the Farewell Discourse that on the eve of Jesus’ own death, he pauses to speak to the disciples about their fears, anxieties, and despair. The words he offers in John 14 are not simplistic offers of comfort and assurance, however, but derive from his knowledge of the love of God for him and his ‘own,’ and his confidence in the triumph of that love over ‘the ruler of this world.’ In John 14, Jesus moves the disciples beyond the present moment in which they are living into the future that is grounded in the certitude of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. He offers them a vision of a future shaped by the promises of God, in which God is always present to them—through their love for one another and through the communal indwelling of God, Jesus, and the Paraclete. Over and over again in John 14, Jesus sounds the note that the disciples will not face the future alone, that the gift God has given to them in Jesus will not terminate with the end of Jesus’ life, but will take on new shape when, under the guidance of the Paraclete, as they live out God’s commandment to love.”

The ancient Old Testament allegory of Israel as Yahweh’s vine becomes deeply Christianized at this point. Jesus is the true vine of which the Father takes personal care, pruning the barren branches, trimming clean the fruitful. These latter are the disciples who have accepted Jesus’ life-giving word. They are invited, encouraged to live on, to abide in Jesus. The Greek word for “abide/remain,” menō, occurs eleven times in these few verses, a repeated insistence on the return of Jesus by indwelling. The other all-important word is “love.” Just as “abide/remain” is the essential word of verses 1–8, so “love” becomes essential in vv.9–17. Consider how the “Vine and Branches” metaphor concludes: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” (John 15:16-17)

The central teaching of this allegory is clear. Remaining in Jesus through love is essential. If this happens, when it happens, the disciple will produce fruit (vv. 5, 8). When it does not happen, the disciple is no disciple at all, but good for nothing but fuel (v. 6).

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