Easter 5 · John 15:1-8 · May 10, 2009
By Henry Gerike
The Great Fifty Days of Easter continue as the Church explores how it stays alive. Christ’s resurrection certainly makes us alive. To remain alive in Christ is to stay connected to him through his Word and the Sacraments.
The idea of the vineyard and the vine is not new; it was already evident in Isaiah 5:1-7 (the Song of the Vineyard), where in the “house of Israel” the “loved one” planted vines looking “for a crop of good grapes,” but finding that it “yielded only bad fruit” (Is 5:2). Depicting God as the planter of “a choice vine of sound and reliable stock,” Jeremiah 2:21 reveals that the vine turns against God and becomes “a corrupt, wild vine.” This concept is explored in other Old Testament references: Ezekiel 19:10-14, 15:1-8,17:7-8; Hosea 10:1; Psalm 80:8-19; Isaiah 27:2-6.
Twice Jesus identifies himself as the “vine” or “true vine” (Jn 15:1, 5). He also identifies his Father as the “gardener” (v.l), the one who “cuts off” (airo) “every branch in me [Christ] that bears no fruit.”
While “cut off” and “prune” are similar actions, there are nuances to take into account. To cut off (airo) has the sense of lifting up and carrying away, as reflected in John 1:29 where Jesus is identified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 11:48 uses the same word in the sense that what is taken away is destroyed. The use of “prunes” in verse 2 is the only use in the New Testament of the form kathairo, related to others, such as katharizo, katharismos, katharos, katharotes, using the stem (kathar-) that indicates the elimination of ritual impurities (Jn 2:6, 3:25, 13:10-11). Thus when God, the gardener, prunes the branches, he is cleansing or purifying the branches of his vine, his disciples.
This cleansing, purifying, occurs through the Word that Jesus speaks, God’s Word (v. 3). This Word is powerful, “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
The fruit that the gardener expects from the branches is demonstrated in Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” This is fruit that flows from a heart that trusts Jesus, that clings to his death for life, that believes his word. The branch that remains connected to the vine is a healthy branch, capable of bearing much fruit. Examples of bad fruit can be found in Galatians 5:19-21, which ultimately is no fruit at all, at least not in God’s vineyard.
Often translated as “remain,” the word “meno” also has the sense of “abide, stay, live or dwell, endure, continue.” Within this chapter of John 15, the word is used eleven times. It would seem from the commands to remain or abide that the branch has this responsibility. But looking at John 15:4, 5 and 16, puts it all in perspective; “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…. apart from me you can do nothing…. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” So it is about Christ and his work in us.
The fact that the “you”s of verses 7-8 are all plural implies that branches do not exist in isolation—going against much of the rugged individualism rampant in our society. The ultimate goal of bearing fruit is the glory of the Father. Our discipleship—our bearing fruit—is to give glory to God the Father. Our bearing much fruit will reveal ourselves as his disciples, reminiscent of John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”