3 May 2015

John 15:1-8

“I am the vine, you are the branches” (v. 5)

Psalm : Psalm 150


Jesus shares his final 'I am' saying with his disciples between leaving the upper room (John 14:31) and entering the garden known as Gethsemane (John 18:1). We can imagine as they made this journey across the city that they would have walked by a number of vines and vineyards. This gave Jesus the chance to remind the disciples the truth about who he was. This truth would keep their faith rooted in the weeks, months and years to come as they shared the good news.

This passage has origins in the words and images of Isaiah 5:1-7 in which God is described as the gardener and Israel the vine that God tends. There is also a connectionwith the Greek god of wine and grapevines, Dionysus, who would have been well known to many of John's Greek readers at that time. In John 15 Jesus declares that he is the "true vine" (v. 1) to show the Jews and the Greeks that in him new life and a new covenant can be found.

We are told that vines will be removed (verse 2) if they bear no fruit. The word translated here as to cut or remove can also be translated as to lift up.Ancient vineyards grew low to the ground and so branches were lifted up to keep the fruit from sitting on the soil and rotting, and also to encourage growth on the low-lying vines. We can't say for sure which meaning Jesus had in mind but it may be that we should hold the tension between the removal of unfruitful branches and the lifting up of others to encourage growth.

Another word that has a dual meaning is the one used for the word translated pruned (verse 2) and cleansed (verse 3). Both words in the Greek have the same root and can be understood as pruning or cleansing. In the instance of verse 3 where Jesus says you have been cleansed by my word we can also read it to say you have already been pruned. This could be an encouragement to the disciples that they have already been fruitful and pruned so that they can produce more fruit.

Jesus' word's encourage his disciples to abide, or live, in him as he lives in us. This is where the fruit of life comes from and it is this that acts as witness to our faith in Jesus. Where someone does not abide in the true vine the branch begins to wither and eventually dies, is broken off and tossed in the fire.

To Ponder

  • Think of your journey of faith. When can you see the times where you have been lifted up, pruned or cleansed?
  • We are called to be branches that bear fruit. What does bearing fruit look like for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Wynd

David Wynd is a Methodist presbyter in the North Shields and Whitley Bay Circuit. He leads Cullercoats Methodist Church and is involved in a circuit project called Network.