Reflection for Easter 5

By David Perril

John 15 : 1-8

By the time we get to chapter 15 of John’s gospel Jesus has already used the expression “I Am” several times.

 “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the Way” (John 14:6); and “I am the Door” (John 10:9).

 In today’s reading, the night before His death, Jesus tells the disciples, “I am the Vine.” Like all the other great “I am” passages, it points to His divinity, using the name for God that was revealed to Moses in Exodus  “I AM” Each one of those “I AM” statements gives Jesus a title that was only previously used by God.

In this reading we have a vine and its branches. The vine is the source and sustenance of life for the branches, and the branches must abide in the vine to live and bear fruit. Jesus, of course, is the vine, and the branches are people. that much is obvious, It is equally obvious that the fruit-bearing branches represent true Christians. What we also need to know is who are the branches that do not bear fruit, who are the fruitless ones ?

Some may say they are Christians who bear no spiritual fruit. Or maybe they are just people who are not Christians.

As always, the answer is in the context. Think about who was with Jesus that night. 

The disciples whom He had loved with all his heart; and comforted with words of encouragement were with him. God his Father was also with him in His thoughts as He contemplated the fate that awaited him the next day. And He surely would also have been aware of Judas the betrayer who had been excluded from the fellowship when he rejected Jesus’ final appeal of love. All these were in the mind of Jesus. The eleven, whom He loved deeply and passionately. His Father, with whom He shared an infinite love. And Judas whom He had also loved unconditionally. And they all have a part in this parable.

The vine is Christ; the vinedresser is the Father. The fruit -bearing branches represent the eleven and all true disciples, and The fruitless branches represent Judas and all who profess to be true disciples but are not. Jesus was aware of the difference between Judas and the other eleven disciples. He appeared to be like the others. He was with Jesus for the same amount of time — he had even been given the responsibility of looking after the money, he was a branch in the vine just like the others – but he never really bore fruit, and God finally removed that branch from the vine. But also remember that Jesus made a promise to His children, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

Jesus promised security for the children of God: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away” he said (John 6:37). A true believer cannot lose his or her salvation.

A branch that is truly connected to the vine is secure and will never be removed. But one that only appears to be connected, one that only has a superficial connection, will be removed, because if it does not have the life of the vine flowing through it, it will bear no fruit. Those are the Judas-branches if you like.

Jesus was not introducing a new idea by using the example of a vine and branches. In the Old Testament, God’s vine was Israel. He used Israel to accomplish His purpose in the world, and He blessed those connected with Israel. He was the vinedresser; He cared for the vine, trimmed it, and cut off branches that did not bear fruit.

Israel did not bear fruit, and in the book of Isaiah God grieved over Israel’s fruitlessness: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?  When I expected it to yield grapes why did it yield wild grapes? He said (Isaiah 5:1-7).

But now, moving on to the New Testament there is a new vine. No longer does blessing come through that covenant between God and Israel. Now, fruit and blessing come through connection with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the true Vine.

In Scripture, the word true is often used to describe what is eternal, heavenly, and divine. So we have Jesus the true light,  and Jesus the true bread, and Jesus the true vine.

The key to our understanding of this parable is in verse 4 when Jesus said to his disciples  “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.”

 With those words Jesus not only pointed to the heart of the parable but the heart of Christianity itself.  “Abide in me as I abide in you”

All effective Christian devotion and service stem from those words.

Christ is the whole vine, not just the main stem. The disciples, as branches of the vine, are part of the vine and therefore part of him, and to be effective they must depend completely upon him, otherwise they will not be fruitful.

And being fruitful is the mark of true discipleship for all of us. Effective discipleship, effective prayer, effective work, effective service in the name of Christ.

By verse 9 The image of the vine and the vine grower gradually fades and turns to the language of love. The measure of God’s love for his Son is reflected in Christ’s love for his disciples, and they stay protected by that love by being part of the vine, and the way to remain part of the vine is to continue in obedience to Christ’s command. A self giving love like Christ’s own love.

He reminded the disciples that the love to which he calls them is measured by his own giving of his life for them – remember those words  “There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.

Sacrifice of life for one’s friend is commended by Jesus as the highest form of love.  Jesus chose the image of a vine to illustrate all this for several reasons. 

It is an image of a close, permanent, and vital union between the vine and branches, – between Jesus and his followers. 

It is symbolic of belonging, because the branches belong entirely to the vine; as we belong to Jesus. And if the branches of the vine are to live and bear fruit, they must completely depend on the vine for nourishment, support, strength, and vitality. 

A denomination is not the vine, A church is not the vine, Jesus is the vine.

And as branches of the vine we must put our trust in Jesus so that we may live and bear fruit to the glory of God.     

Amen.