Life In The True Vine
Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 15: 1 — 8
— An Overview of the Setting
Our reading from St. John’s account of the Gospel is part of a long discourse of Jesus to His faithful disciples as the Passover celebrations were commencing. After a final meal with them, He washed their feet and then got down to some serious talking, starting in chapter 13. If we find it all a little difficult to “take in” and feel we fully understand, then we can probably imagine how the first Apostles found it. But they persevered and due course, with enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, they eventually saw what Jesus was trying to convey and share with them. If we also persevere, we too will experience that same gift of enlightenment which comes only from the Holy Spirit.
The passage is of such huge importance, that we have proceeded only slowly both into and through its message. If we find it is too rich to take in all at once, we can just focus on selected aspects which attract our attention.
Back to Chapter 14: Jesus Remaining In the Disciples
In Chapter 14, we notice there is no confrontation and challenge. Jesus is addressing only his disciples and thus the Christian readers of the Gospels. All that he says has to be interpreted by the events that are soon to follow. He has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who will be the confirmed divine presence to help them continue the mission of Jesus. He will remain with them and within them. He will teach them everything and make them remember everything Jesus taught.
It is worth pausing a moment to recall verse 26 of chapter 14.
The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in
my name — he will teach you everything and remind you
of all that (I) told you.
Our Lord’s teaching on this point is that the role of the Holy Spirit is not just to “remind” us of what Jesus taught — as though reminding us what day of the week it is. The gracious gift of the Holy Spirit is to bring to mind our Lord’s teaching with understanding, and everything properly connected — not disjointed reminders of various words or sayings like a patchwork quilt.
On to Chapter 15: The Disciples remaining in Jesus
In Chapter 15, Jesus now shifts the emphasis to the disciples’ abiding in Him, by means of faith in Him and obedience to His word. The first eight verses record Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches and His comparison with the union between Him and each disciple. Jesus is now addressing eleven disciples, Judas having excused himself to attend to “some business matters”
The Value Jesus Places on A Personal Relationship
In the first eight verses of John 15, Jesus is concerned with emphasising the importance of an individual, personal relationship of each disciple with him as the source of their life. He is not so much concerned here with the collective relationship of disciples as his Church. That is covered elsewhere.
We now allow Ronald Cox (The Gospel Story) to introduce us to our short passage of eight verses (commenting on the Knox Translation of the Vulgate).
Our Lord looked with pity and affection at these eleven disciples, all
puzzled and confused at the deep mysteries He had revealed to them
this night; they could not understand how the Master could go away
from them, and yet be united to them more closely still. Jesus knew
well their slowness to grasp supernatural truths, and their childlike
need of pictures; so now He would explain His abiding presence
under the image of a vine. This expresses the relation between Him
and them, more accurately and vividly than that of a person dwelling
in a house (John chapter 14); it is an organic union; both vine and
branch live with the one life (the key word ‘live on’ is repeated eleven
times), the life of the vine.
But our Lord has another reason for taking the vine as His illustration;
branches are needed to complete the vine; they, not the trunk, bear
fruit (this key word ‘fruit’ is repeated eight times). The trunk provides
the vital sap, but grapes grow only on the branches. The work of
converting the world (the fruit of the apostolate) belongs to them; the
vitality and power to do this work comes from Him. Both they and He
are necessary; apart from the vine the branches have no life, and the
vine by itself cannot bear fruit. They will surely recall this teaching
when our Lord gives them their final commission (Matthew 28 “Go
therefore and make disciples of all nations.”). The image of the vine
and branches is the basis for St. Paul’s doctrine of the Mystical Body.
‘The Church is His body, the completion of Him, who everywhere
and in all things is complete’ (Ephesians 1: 23). In both there is the
same vital, organic union of Christ and the Christian.
Some Reflections On The Text
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
Jesus begins his discourse identifying himself as the “true vine” and his Father as the caring gardener. The word “true” has important links with the scriptures. In the Greek Old Testament (which St. John would have used) Israel is called the “true vine” (Jeremiah 2: 21). St John uses the same adjective in recording Jesus’ statement. Some commentators are quick to declare that Jesus is distinguishing himself from faithless Israel. But Jesus is in fact emphasising that he is the reality of that which the Vine of Israel is but the type (forerunner).
In this way St. John begins this section of his Gospel account: i.e. with an opening declaration that Jesus declared Himself to be the real and true vine of Israel, pointed to by all the ancient Scriptures. Increasingly as this description unfolds, St. John demonstrates how the life-sap of the vine, love, originates in the Father, is dispensed by Jesus, flows freely in the disciples who, in turn, share it by the Holy Spirit in their relationship with the wider community.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
The vine is constantly watched by the caring gardener who cuts away branches which do not bear frit. He does this for the sake of those that do bear fruit, to strengthen them and help them to be more fruitful. Jesus is stating in no uncertain terms, the displeasure of the Father towards faithless followers. Note that it is the Father who does the thinning out and even the fruit-bearing branches have to take a trim. Some of the branches cut off may have borne fruit previously but following Jesus is not a “part-time job”.
All His followers will always bear fruit in season, because they will be ENABLED to bear fruit ― and in the next two verses He explains how.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke
Now comes a very brief statement to the disciples. “You have already been trimmed and cleaned up through the power of my word”. What word? Actually He uses the term, “word”, to mean instruction, teaching ― all His words spoken for them, but especially those which lay down the standards to be observed in His Kingdom. All that Jesus has taught about Israel’s history and prophetic insight has taken root in them. They have welcomed His word, which has become part of them, and remains vibrant within them. He is thrilled with them.
Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot
bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so
neither can you unless you remain in me.
And so He can say to them “Remain in me, as I remain in you”. This does not mean “If you remain or abide in me then I will remain in you”. It is a double imperative. “See that you remain in me and see that I remain in you”. The power of this commandment is often overlooked. Jesus is mandating great care and effort in building and nurturing a robust, genuine relationship. Anything which detracts from this must be severed and destroyed.
The branch can receive no sap from the vine unless there is constant and unimpeded contact between them. The supreme condition of fruitfulness is abiding (remaining) in Jesus; as the branches draw sap from the vine, so believers must derive their strength, wisdom, holiness and power from their Lord. The message is clear, they must continue closely united to Him and continuously receive from Him the power to do good (i.e. bear fruit). But how? Jesus has in verse 3, already hinted that obedience to His word kept alive in them, will keep them faithful. And now He declares the need to remember humbly, that the branches do not give but take the sap of life from the vine.
Each follower is responsible for taking the necessary steps to keep Christ’s word alive in them.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in
me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me
you can do nothing.
Again he says, “I am the vine”, but adds the reassuring phrase “you are the branches”. The early Church, looking back, realised that the presence of a traitor must not be allowed to weaken the rest. At a certain moment he was removed so that the other branches could grow even stronger. So the “true vine” is sending out new branches. You are those branches, Jesus says. This is a very special moment to ponder.
But what is the fruit Jesus is talking about? Our Lord does not spell out all the details in one breath. He is, in fact, building up to a major climax and declaration (in verses 7 and 8), fitting for such an occasion. The emphasis at this moment of His talk is that, in the spiritual domain, His disciples, in all ages of the history of His Church, will never achieve anything unless their first priority is to remain centred in Him:
“….. ― without me you can do nothing!”
Let’s read how theologians might express all this talk of Jesus being, “The Vine“:
• Even more vividly than the “Body of Christ” in Paul, this image
expresses the closeness of communion with Jesus: “I am the
vine, you are the branches”: paradoxically Christ is the whole
tree, including the branches, for He is not just the tree-trunk
and this suggests that He is the source of life for those who
remain in communion with Him. (James Mc Polin, S. J.)
• Our Lord’s idea of “the vine” includes both stalk and branches,
“since the stalk and branches can be regarded as part of the vine,
in the same way that believers may be regarded as part of Christ;
that is, they are in Him as He is in them”. (Newman and Nida)
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch
that is thrown away and withers; such branches are
picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
And now another warning: abide or depart! This is “tuff stuff!” We do not need to push the allegory too far and treat the fire as some kind of cleansing symbol. Jesus is striving to show how strongly His Father disapproves of branches which soak up the living sap and grow fat on it without giving fruit in return. There is absolutely no place for them!
Our first reaction to this may be to feel alarmed. Remember, Jesus, Yeshua, teaches in the traditional rabbinic way. He presents a dramatic, heavily accentuated, almost extreme possibility, against which He will contrast what He is really wanting to encourage and highlight above all else.
Verses 7 and 8
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for
whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and
become my disciples.
Our Lord now reaches the high point of this segment of His teaching. Everything so far has pointed to these two verses.
Jesus begins with a double condition:
“If you remain in me,
“If my words remain in you ….. “
His message is clear, and in Hebrew style, very emphatic. His disciples will, first strive to live constantly in His presence ― to remain in Him.
Secondly, the disciples of Jesus will be fully immersed in His teaching: listening constantly for Him and to Him, with a view to putting into practice, through prayer and good works everything He commands. This is what He means by the Gospel. Following it carefully will always lead (in God’s good time) to the vine bearing “much fruit” and thereby giving glory to the Vine Grower, His Father.
Jesus uses a very significant phrase: “my words”. In the Hebrew culture, in which He lived and taught, the term “words” refers to teaching, in Hebrew, “torah“. This word is sometimes translated as “law”, but it certainly does not mean “law” in our modern sense. It always means God’s instruction to mankind to provide humanity with a sure guide to living life to the full, as God planned.
By “my words”, Jesus means, “my instruction”, “my teaching” or, in Hebrew, “my Torah”. The Church has always considered His “Sermon on the Mount” in which Jesus gave the Beatitudes as the essence of His Teaching, His Torah, His Gospel, since it built upon and raised to a new height the ancient Law, which included the Ten Commandments. (Notice how we often write Teaching and Torah with a capital ‘T’ out of reverence for Christ who is the Word of God. John1.)
Thus, in this beautiful passage, our Lord identifies Himself with the ancient Torah (Deuteronomy 6: 4 ….. ), renews it, and calls us into a full immersion in it. That, and only that, He teaches, will enable us to put His teaching into practice, and devote our lives to promoting integrity, peace, justice for all, and the honour of God. This is how the disciple of Jesus will give glory to His Father ― our Father, the Vine Grower.
In verse 1 of our passage Jesus said:
“I am the vine, and my Father is the Vine Grower.”
By this He implied:
It is the glory of the Vine Grower, to see His Vine well cultivated
and laden with fruit. And it is the glory of God, my Father, to see
you filled with faith, hope, charity, and good works, and to
behold you usefully employed in the conversion of others. Then
will men, seeing your good works and the fruit of your preaching,
among all nations, glorify your heavenly Father, as the author
of all these blessings. “Just so, your light must shine before
others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your
heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5: 16)
(G. L. Haydock.)
Abiding in the Word
The first eight Verses of John 15 offer us a unique insight into Jesus’
teaching on prayer and meditation. For nowhere else does he so
adamantly point out the need for us to remain in him by keeping his
word always within and before us, nurturing it, treasuring it,
constantly listening for every new intimation the Holy Spirit brings
to life within us. Two quotations from Biblical scholars will help us
be more convinced of the real value of listening to his word and
being obedient to his will. “If you remain in me and my words remain
in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.” (John 15: 7).
Real and Continuous Union With Jesus Christ
This union, if characterised by true submission to the will of Christ,
is certain to result in fruitfulness: “If ye abide in me, and my words
abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Here a new element is introduced, namely prayer; but the
relationship is vital. One who is united with Christ in trustful
obedience, one who meditates upon his word, one who is guided
by his indwelling Spirit, will be lead to pray for the success in the
divine work, in his own experience and in the world, and, for prayer
so originating, there is no limit to its power. Fruitfulness must result;
God will be glorified and believers will thus show themselves to be
true disciples. (v. 8). From “The Gospel of John” by C. R Erdman
(Westminster Press 1964)
Union With Christ and The Mind of Christ
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask,”
etc. (Verse 7). Here, it will be noticed the Lord begins to abandon
the figure of the tree, “for my words abide in you,” cannot properly
be said of branches. The unconscious branch begins to disappear
in the conscious person, in whom words can “abide” by memory
and active obedience. But what words of Christ? All Christ’s words.
All must be accepted, retained, and pondered, and acted out so
far as our limited faculties will allow.
“Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Why should Christ’s words abiding in us be the ground of this
particular promise? Evidently for this reason: the more the
words of Christ abide in us by our receiving them in implicit
faith, and appropriating them, the more the mind of Christ will
be in us; for the words of Christ convey the mind of Christ, and
the more we have of the mind of Christ the more we shall fall in
with the will and purposes of God: and so our desires will be
expressed in prayer to God for what He is most disposed to
grant. The words of Christ abiding within us will inspire us to
pray for what He wills, and what He wills His Father approves,
and will bring about.
From “The Gospel According to St. John” by M.F Sadler.
(George Bell & Sons 1898)
Our scholars emphasise the abiding of the Word ― the Divine Word ― the Divine Teaching, in us.
Dr. Donald Carson quotes Fr. Raymond Brown on this point: “Jesus and His revelation are virtually interchangeable, for He is incarnate revelation.”
Jesus is, in His own being, the entire revelation of God. Jesus Christ is our Torah! He is Christ, our King!
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“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Life In The True Vine
5th Sunday of Easter Year A St. John 15: 1 — 8
1. Jesus said, “I am the true vine”.
As Christians we can become a little puzzled by this kind of talk. According tour Lord, are all other vines false imitations? Obviously not. But He is definitely laying claim that the Ancient Vine, Israel, was the forerunner of what He is. Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of all that His Father intended when He planted His Vine. Throughout its history, His Vine often failed to produce the desired fruit and so had to be trimmed. Now the Vine, Jesus Christ, truly intended by the Vine Grower ― His Father ― is in place, and has performed admirably. In fact Jesus, the True Vine, is thrilled with the first of its new fruit ― the Apostles. They are the inheritors of all the life and culture of the Ancient Vine, Israel. They are, however, to draw all their sustenance from Him, the true Vine ― that is through Jesus the Messiah who has renewed the Vine, and will continue to trim it, feed it, shape it, and lead it as the Vine Grower, His Father, ordains.
We too, are that Vine, not a new vine, notice, but genuine and authentic new growth on the Ancient Vine: renewed and fulfilled by none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a privilege we have received in order to pass it on in our bearing good fruit to the honour and glory of God, the Vine Grower.
2. Jesus said, “Remain in me as I remain in you”.
His injunction is a solemn command to take all steps necessary, in our various different circumstances, and states of life, to nurture a truly close, loving relationship with Him, who is our entry point into the great Vine planted by God Himself. Each of us is to ponder frequently what this means in our life, and whether we are “measuring up”. The failings of Ancient Israel can easily become ours also!
3. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples”.
The double condition: “If you remain in me, and if my words remain in you”, is surely an indication that we will grow in the mind of Christ if we apply ourselves to meditating carefully on His divine word. The Holy Spirit will then inspire us to pray for all those things with which God wishes to bless the world. This very act is the core of our missionary work ― the fruit we are to bear ― but without it there is no growth, and the vine shrinks. If the Vine is shrinking, we should know where to look.
Let’s pray for one another, no matter who or where we are ― that we will support and help one another to:―
• remain in Jesus Christ;
• keep His “words”, His Teaching echoing within us;
• apply His Teaching, His Torah, His Gospel in our daily lives to
Praise be Jesus Christ, our King!
John 15: 1 — 8
5th Sunday after Easter Year B
1 1 2 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
2 He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to
4 Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me
6 4 Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for
8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and
1 [⇒ 15:1-⇒ 16:4] Discourse on the union of Jesus with his disciples. His words become a monologue and go beyond the immediate crisis of the departure of Jesus.
2 [1-17] Like ⇒ John 10:1-5, this passage resembles a parable. Israel is spoken of as a vineyard at ⇒ Isaiah 5:1-7; ⇒ Matthew 21:33-46 and as a vine at ⇒ Psalm 80:9-17; ⇒ Jeremiah 2:21; ⇒ Ezekiel 15:2; ⇒ 17:5-10; ⇒ 19:10; ⇒ Hosea 10:1. The identification of the vine as the Son of Man in ⇒ Psalm 80:15 and Wisdom’s description of herself as a vine in ⇒ Sirach 24:17 are further background for portrayal of Jesus by this figure. There may be secondary eucharistic symbolism here; cf ⇒ Mark 14:25 “the fruit of the vine.”
3  Takes away . . . prunes: in Greek there is a play on two related verbs.
4  Branches were cut off and dried on the wall of the vineyard for later use as fuel.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
An Easter Prayer
We often get the feeling that we live in times of unprecedented turmoil among the nations, extreme cruelty and destruction of ancient and venerable cultures. We forget that your Church has undergone many periods of such hostility in its long history. You foresaw this and provided everything your disciples down through the ages need to “stay on track”.
The “formula for survival” as Christians you gave us is easy to miss, or forget — if we ever really noticed it. Actually, it was not just a piece of good advice; it was a command:
“Remain in me as I remain in you.“
You have given us the responsibility to take positive steps to “stay close,” to “keep in touch”. You warn us what will become of us if we fail to listen to you and carry out what you command: “we will, like useless branches be thrown out” and “burned”.
Then, having spoken so graphically, you move quickly to reassure us that there is a “life-line” in place for us, if we will but take you at your word:
“If you remain in me and if my words remain in you.”
In other words, we are to feed on your words, literally — consume them, chew over them, and digest them with the heart and mind. We are to meditate on your divine word, your teaching and be filled with it, constantly — never emptying our minds merely to rest or relax, but to open our minds to the fullness of your presence.
Thank you Lord for the words you have left us to ponder in the Sacred Scriptures. Help us please, through the Holy Spirit, to love the Scriptures and to meditate on them, letting whatever the Spirit draws to our attention, echo within us and thus help us abide in you. Help us also, please, to be able to share our reflections with one another, and to pass them on to others. Help us to rebuild a Christian culture which values the treasury of Sacred Scripture which the Holy Spirit has assembled and seeks constantly to make plain to us.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your gift of yourself to your Church, that we may together, as family, feed on the Divine Word and grow to the greater glory of God. Amen.
Come Lord Jesus.