23 August 2017

John 15:1-6

“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.” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 67


If you were to wander around Israel in Jesus' day the trees that you would find most often would not be oak or sycamore, but olive, fig and vine. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that all of these are used as images in the Old Testament for the people of God, in a similar way that some writers like to compare the English character to the 'sturdy oak'. In fact, the Old Testament is full of references to Israel as God's vineyard or as a vine. While the image was a common one, Andrew Lincoln, in his excellent commentary on John, suggests that the main background to our passage today may well be Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:1-10; 19:10-14. These use the same kind of ideas that Jesus used here - the vine, the idea of bearing fruit, the distinction between the vine and its branches, and the issue of useless branches.

If Lincoln is right then here Jesus has taken a well-known image and introduced one twist; that Jesus himself is now the vine. Presumably therefore, any of those who first read the John's Gospel and were Jews, would have been most struck by the idea that Jesus is now central to bearing fruit in God's vineyard.

There is also a nice word play in verse 2, which says that any branch which does not bear fruit God will take away 'aire' and any vine which does bear fruit God will prune 'kathaire', reminding us that pruning also means taking something away. In verse 3 the word that Jesus used for clean comes from the same root, so we could translate it as, 'You are already pruned because of the word that I have spoken'.

Of course, 'being pruned' could feel like a very negative image for discipleship, but it is a necessary one. At very least it reminds us that the difficult and painful experiences of life are often the point at which we learn most about relying on God and drawing spiritual help and sustenance from Christ.

To Ponder

  • What experiences have you had (or are you having) of being pruned in Christ's service?
  • Is there any part of your life where pruning might be necessary?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.