5 May 2010John 15:1-8
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit." (v.1-2)
The image of the vine and the branches was a common image in
many Mediterranean cultures during Jesus' time, so both Jews and
non-Jews alike would have understood the metaphor that Jesus used
in this passage.
Jewish people would have thought of an image that is used a number of times in Hebrew Scripture, particularly in Isaiah 5:1-7, where the people of Israel and Judah are called "the vineyard of the Lord". The Isaiah passage complains that, rather than doing justice, Israel and Judah killed and shed blood instead. Using the vineyard image, they produced wild grapes and not good grapes.
Today's passage from John is a metaphor that Jesus employed with his disciples just before he was taken to his trial and crucifixion. So what might this image from Isaiah mean for the disciples in that particular circumstance? In previous passages, Jesus has been talking about his relationship with God as well as with the disciples (which includes the wider community of believers). He has also been talking about the centrality of love. Love, Jesus said, is his new commandment (John 13:34).
This metaphor serves to reinforce what Jesus has been saying previously: that what he does is in obedience to God, just as the grapevine necessarily yields to the gardener. Jesus has also been exhorting his disciples to follow his example, and stay grafted on to the vine. And following Jesus' example means to engage in works of love, something that the disciples will be able to do as they draw energy from 'abiding' in him.
Metaphors can be powerful things and this image of Jesus as the vine and his followers as the branches is a favourite image for many followers of Jesus. Branches draw nourishment and sustenance from the vine and disciples of Jesus today often find that there is something about following him that gives courage and strength in difficult times. Yet the commandment to bear the fruit of love is also there, and those who do not do so will be pruned.
How does the image of the vine and the branches speak to you about the relationship between Jesus and his followers? What images can you think of that might be more appropriate to the 21st century?
How might a person reconcile the commandment to reflect God's loving behaviour with the image of a God who prunes unproductive branches from the vine?
In what way does God 'prune' Jesus' followers so that they can be better disciples?