(for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2015)
‘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. 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. (John 15:1-8, NRSV).
The vine is not a metaphor that originates with Jesus telling. It is, rather, an old, old image of the nation of Israel. Isaiah sang God’s song in Isaiah 5. Part of it reads:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting…(Isaiah 5:7, NRSV)
Ever since the vine has been one of Israel’s national symbols.
So when Jesus claims to be ‘the true vine’ he is courting controversy. Here is Jesus’ dangerous re-mix of an old and established story.
And from the outset Jesus puts himself right at the heart of it all: ‘I am the true vine’. Jesus: the new centre.
And not only is he the centrepiece of God’s garden. The repeated invitation to ‘abide in me’ encourages Jesus’ audience to make him the centrepiece of their lives. After all, here is the source of life and fruitfulness for every branch. There is no other connection to the root than Jesus himself.
Even so it would seem some of these branches are not fruitful. They are ‘pruned’, ‘wither’ and are eventually ‘gathered’ and ‘burned’.
Perhaps all this seemed too cryptic for some. Jesus talks straight towards the end: ‘My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’ Crystal clear. Plain talk.
This is a parable about becoming Jesus’ disciples. It is about glorifying God with our lives. It is about the possibility of connection with the Christ and the productivity that results.
Hear it well and you may never be able to see your garden in the same way again.