Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15 1-8
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. H e removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.'
Jesus knew his time was short, and so He gathered His disciples together and gave them his final teachings. He summarized everything he had taught them, told them what they must not forget, and reminded them of the essential truths they must remember. He warned them of the trials that were coming, but encouraged them to stay strong in the faith. If you want to understand the heart of Jesus, the place to start would be this Upper Room Discourse. However, in the middle of this passage, there is a section where Jesus illustrates what he has been teaching. As He so often does, he uses a common, everyday picture to vividly portray the lesson He has taught. In John 15, He gives us the picture of the vine and the vinedresser or farmer.
On the whole we understand the principles of productivity. It is for the most part how we measure success or failure. It is at the heart of our economic structure. Those who produce will be rewarded those who do not produce will be replaced. Sadly we can often see it replicated in our educational system. Bright students do well and are supported where not so bright students can get lost in the system. There is danger in thinking that productivity is the only goal and the only fittest will survive. I wonder if that idea has eroded some of our spiritual lives.
How many of us have heard that pruned branches have produced fruit and are rewarded while non-productive branches are punished. If not directly taught it is often inherent in some teachings. It is our misunderstanding of the text that causes the problem. We do not need to struggle to produce fruit to appease or curry favour with God. Jesus is talking about a much deeper issue than producing grapes. He wants and offers us connectivity with himself, relationship and intimacy.
Once again in this text we have the ‘I am’ statements. Remember the Greek (ego eimi) the words that God used to reply to Moses when he asked God his name. This is the last of the ‘I am’ statements.
• “I am the bread of life” (6:35).
• “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (6:51).
• “I am the light of the world” (8:12).
• “I am the sheep’s door” (10:7).
• “I am the good shepherd” (10:11).
• “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).
• “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).
In other words, “I AM” is God, and these “I am” metaphors identify Jesus as God. This is in keeping with the opening statement of this Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). This is the last of the “I am” metaphors in this Gospel. When Jesus identifies himself as the true vine, “and my Father is the vine grower”, he suggests that the vine (Jesus/Son) is dependent on the vine grower (God/Father) for its care and feeding and fruit. We cannot overstate the mutuality that exists between the Father and the Son. Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (10:30).
I think it is fair to say that like some of our plants we wither from time to time. I am speaking of course about our walk with God. Most people who identify themselves as Christians have highs and lows in their journey of faith. Generally speaking it is because we allow our relationship with Jesus to grow old, or like our plants, we forget to get the kind of nutrition that we need to stay fresh and vital. I am sure all of us have had the experience when our spiritual energy withers. Like drooping plants, our relationship with Christ that was once so vibrant and fresh and exciting becomes slow, stale, and dry. The sad thing is that sometimes it's hard to see this happening because we still go to church, sing the hymns and from the outside, all appears to be well. But we know deep down that we have lost our connectivity with the vine, and are trying to go it alone.
It is times like these that the pruning shears usually appear. None of us like the idea of being pruned. The author of Hebrews explains it this way: ‘ the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.’ He goes on to say that ‘Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.’ While the parent’s discipline and the vine grower’s pruning might be painful, they are beneficial. That is important to remember, because life involves pain, and this text assures us that our pain is not necessarily a sign of God’s displeasure. On the contrary, pain may well be a sign that God is still working to mould us, to shape our lives, to help us to become the best that we can be.
We should not measure our fruitfulness by how many souls we have led to Christ, or by how we feel, but by the evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.’ If we are close to Jesus and abide or live in him these fruits will automatically follow.
There is only one way to end this reflection – a prayer for us all.
Lord Jesus, you seem to love that little word ‘abide’. You use it eight times in this passage. Help me love it too. Your abiding is steady: you are constantly at home with me. You don’t drift off or grow stale or get dry as I am prone to do. Teach me this art of abiding. Help me to learn that I don’t have to be ‘always on the go.’ That grapes mature happily simply by being on the vine: they don’t have to work to blossom and ripen. Help me to rest in you so that simply being with you is enough. Amen
The familiar words of the Hymn ‘Abide with me’ sum it up –
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death's sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.