Vine and branches: context

Jesus-Apostles-vine-branch2John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine…”

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. 2 He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. 3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. 4 Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Context. Here in the Easter season the first reading for this Sunday comes from Acts of the Apostles. There is a certain sense of appropriateness to that selection as we pay attention to the time after the Resurrection when the apostles and disciples were about the process of becoming “church” (ekklesia) – those who were “called out” to do the work of the Lord. At first blush it might seem odd that the Gospel looks back to the events before the Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Our gospel (vv.1-8) is the first portion of the remarkable “Vine and Branches” metaphor (John 15:1-17) from the Farewell Discourse following the Last Supper (John 14-16). Next Sunday we will hear vv.9-17. The Farewell Discourse is the centerpiece of the three sections that comprise the events of the Last Supper:

The Farewell Meal (13:1–38)
The Foot Washing
Discourse by Jesus on Communal Service
Jesus Prophesies His Betrayal
The Love Commandment and Prophecy of Peter’s Denial

The Farewell Discourse (14:1–16:33)
“I Will Not Leave You Orphaned” (14:18)
“I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (14:6)
“If You Love Me, You Will Keep My Commandments” (14:15)
“Get up, let us go” (14:31)
“Remain in My Love” (15:9)  <—— our reading
“I Have Chosen You Out of the World” (15:19)
“It Is Better for You That I Go” (16:7)

Jesus’ Farewell Prayer (17:1–26). The Farewell Discourse, as a whole, points to an event whose arrival is imminent—that is, Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. In John 14–16, Jesus explains the significance of his departure to his disciples and points them toward the life that they will lead after all these things come to pass – the very life described in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Before beginning to look at the “Vine and Branches” it would perhaps be good to consider the Farewell Discourse as a whole. Gail O’Day [753] provides a wonderful context for our gospel in her summary of John 14:

“It is the wonder of the Farewell Discourse that on the eve of Jesus’ own death, he pauses to speak to the disciples about their fears, anxieties, and despair. The words he offers in John 14 are not simplistic offers of comfort and assurance, however, but derive from his knowledge of the love of God for him and his ‘own,’ and his confidence in the triumph of that love over ‘the ruler of this world.’ In John 14, Jesus moves the disciples beyond the present moment in which they are living into the future that is grounded in the certitude of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. He offers them a vision of a future shaped by the promises of God, in which God is always present to them—through their love for one another and through the communal indwelling of God, Jesus, and the Paraclete. Over and over again in John 14, Jesus sounds the note that the disciples will not face the future alone, that the gift God has given to them in Jesus will not terminate with the end of Jesus’ life, but will take on new shape when, under the guidance of the Paraclete, as they live out God’s commandment to love.”

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