2 May 2021John 15:1-8
'I am the vine, you are the branches' (v. 5)
This is a slow and repetitive passage: it is meant to be mulled over carefully. Its subject is a vine, which is a regular Old Testament image of God’s people, usually when they have been disobedient. In contrast, the subject here is the true vine, i.e. staying steadfastly true to God’s will. Only Jesus can deliver on this. ‘I am the true vine’ (verse 1).The other sayings like this in John’s Gospel are about Jesus the bringer of God’s salvation to the world. This one is different. 'Jesus as vine' is a collective or corporate image: Jesus embraces within himself the individual believers (the branches) of the Christian community. Individual believers must become fruitful – agents of God’s love and sharers in Jesus’s mission in the world. To achieve this there must be a stable relationship between Jesus and believers, like branches necessarily incorporated into a vine. To produce much fruit, vines cannot be left to grow wild; they must be managed. The farmer plants a vine, cuts out and burns any fruitless branches, and prunes (or ‘cleans' – there is one Greek word for both English words) fruit-bearing branches so that they become more fruitful. Only the words of Jesus can ‘cleanse’ believers. Discipleship is about so absorbing Jesus’s words and their meaning that the mind and character of Jesus is formed in the heart of the believer. For the antiquated ‘abide’ in verse 4 read ‘make a home’. Jesus makes a home within believers as they trust in him and mull over his words. It is a two-way process: believers make a home within the corporate ‘Jesus’ (the community that bears his name and practises his self-giving love for one another). Prayer nourishes the stable and fruitful mutual relationship Jesus has established (verse 7). Believers may ask what they want (and it will be done) because they are so intimately bound into Jesus and know his will. And Jesus perfectly expresses God’s mind.
When the vine is immensely fruitful – ie Jesus is incorporating faithful and prayerful disciples – the farmer (Jesus’s Father) basks in glory.
- After many months of being prevented by the pandemic from meeting together in a physical space, what steps is your congregation taking to help worshippers to overcome strangeness, relearn names, rekindle friendships, broaden the range of people they habitually relate to, and catch up on the experience of each person in isolation? What may be learned from it?
- This generation of Christians is more aware than most earlier generations of the Church’s failures (e.g. sex abuse; or incipient racism). And the Church is acutely conscious of many people drifting away from its fellowship and worship. How is your church exploring an appropriate discipline, a commitment to engage creatively with the scriptures and a devoted prayer life in response to these challenges?