09 March 2007

John 15:1-17

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean* because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call your servants, because servants do not know their master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

This picture is currently the wallpaper on my computer, and every time I see it I think about this passage. Thinking about it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy... until I actually attend to Jesus' words! This is a pretty challenging vision of Christian life together! Here's just an off-the-cuff list of my observations:
  • God is the one who prunes the vine. (I think we tend to forget that from time to time.)
  • As branches in the True Vine, we are participants in the love of the divine communion(!).
  • The allure of autonomy is deceptive. A branch hoping to produce fruit on its own ends up in quite the opposite state: tossed away, withered - good only for firewood. Kinda puts my prideful strivings in perspective!
  • "Friends" - wow. I suspect that this is a more robust notion of friendship than those we inherited from Romanticism. That alone is worthy of several posts.
  • Love is costly here. It's easy to read the final "love one another" without glancing at the first, more demanding command: "Love each other as I have loved you." And, of course, on the lips of Jesus, the reference to laying down one's life is no empty exhortation. (Ironically, what may appear as being cut off from the land of the living is actually remaining in the True Vine.) I wonder - what could we say about the nature of the church from this passage?
One more random thought: this passage makes me think of Polycarp - a second century bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the apostle John. His name is derived from two Greek words that appear in this passage: polu karpos or "much fruit." And the name fits. In 155, facing certain execution at the hands of local magistrates, Polycarp refused to curse Christ saying, "I have been his servant for 86 and he has never mistreated me. Then how can I blaspheme the King who saved me?" With his decision to remain in Christ, Polycarp's life was forfeit - they burned and stabbed him. And yet, in laying down his life, Polycarp became a living sermon - a vivid illustration of the very passage from which he derives his name. (If you're interested, you can read a 2nd century account of his martyrdom here.)

* A Johannine play-on-words: the word translated "clean" is the same as the one translated "prune" in the previous verse.

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