Vine and branches: remain

Jesus-Apostles-vine-branch2Remaining. Another word with a double meaning is meno — translated “remain” in our text, but it also carries meanings of “abide, stay; live, dwell; last, endure, continue.” Sometimes this verb refers to the branch staying connected to the vine and sometimes it refers to disciples staying connected to Jesus. This word occurs 11 times in 15:1-17. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, neither can disciples bear fruit if they are disconnected from Jesus.

While v.5 speaks of the mutual indwelling, the roles of Christ and of his followers are not to be confused. Those who so remain in Christ and have Christ remaining in them keep on bearing fruit in quantity. The verse concludes with an emphatic declaration of human helplessness apart from Christ. In isolation from him no spiritual achievement is possible. But remaining in Christ means that “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Phil. 4:13)

Some argue that there may be a contrast between simply being “in Jesus” (v. 2) which allows for the possibility of not bearing fruit; and “remaining or abiding in Jesus” (vv. 4ff.) and He in them, which results in “bearing much fruit” (v. 5). In contrast to St. Peter who remained and allowed himself to be pruned, Judas did not remain. In vv.4-6, the impression is remaining/not remaining is a decision of the branch: to purposely not bear fruit or to separate from the community of love. In either case, v.2 makes clear that it is the gardener who removes the fruitless branches from the vine and the decision to leave the branch has fiery consequences (v. 6).

The imagery in v.6 of a branch that is thrown away and withers and subsequently is picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned may echo Ezek. 15:1–8, where a vine failing to produce fruit is said to be good for nothing but the fire (cf. Ezek. 19:12). “Fire” (pyr, only here in John’s Gospel) is a common Jewish and biblical symbol for divine judgment (e.g., Isa. 30:27; Matt. 3:12 par.; 5:22; 18:8; 25:41; Luke 12:49; Heb. 12:29; 2 Pet. 3:10; Jude 7, 23; Rev. 20:14).

Prayer. Morris captures the understanding of v.7 well as he writes [596]: “From fruit-bearing in general Jesus moves on to prayer. The passage has to do with abiding; the condition of prevailing prayer is abiding in Christ. But whereas before he has spoken of his own abiding in believers, now he speaks of his words abiding in them (cf. 14:21, 23). This is not a different attitude to prayer from that in the previous chapter. There prayer must be offered “in the name” of Christ (14:14) and obedience is strongly insisted on. The same spiritual attitude is in mind here, but from a different standpoint. The prayers of those who are truly abiding in Christ will certainly be “in the name of Christ,” that is in accordance with all that Christ stands for. And if they are really abiding in Christ they will live in obedience to the words of Christ. We should not overlook the importance of “my words.” The teaching of Jesus is important and not lightly to be passed over in the interests of promoting religious feeling. When believers abide in Christ and Christ’s words abide in them, they live as close to Christ as well may be. Then their prayers will be prayers that are in accord with God’s will and they will be fully answered.”

In the end… “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” This refers to remaining in Christ and bearing much fruit understanding that Christ remains in the believer, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and always under the watchful eye of the vine grower. As the Jesuit motto speaks: AMDG – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – For the greater glory of God.

As Eucharist. Many Catholic scholars (Raymond Brown, Jerome Kodell, Eduard Schwizer, etc.) see a part of John’s Eucharistic theology in the metaphor of the “Vine and the Branches” – specifically serving as the cup, as a type of parallel to the “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6. The vine was a recognized Eucharistic symbol at the time the Gospel according to John reached its final written form. We read in the Didache: “And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, ‘We give thanks, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David your child, which you make known to us through Jesus your child…” (IX:1-2). The parallel is reinforced by the egō eimi statement “I am the true vine” corresponding to “I am the bread of life” (6:35). The discourse takes places at the Last Supper, where the presence of the cup evokes a connection with the Eucharist. In addition the emphasis on “abide/remain” and mutual love are very similar to the themes of the cup in Mark (10:38-45; 14:36).

Sources

  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 491-3
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29b in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 658-84
  • Neal M. Flanagan, “John” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 1005-6
  • Jerome Kodell, The Eucharist in the New Testament, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 126-28
  • Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 310-14
  • Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 593-97
  • Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina, Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998) 416-24
  • John J. McPolin, John, vol. 6 of the New Testament Message, eds. Wilfred Harrington and Donald Senior (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989) 207-209
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 514, 735, 753-7

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at http://www.usccb.org/bible/

 

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