Gospel: John 15:1-8


Do you consider yourself a team player or a loner? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of person?

Team player or loner? Inevitably in life, we will play both roles. We will work with others in family, on the job, and in the community. We will put our self-interest aside, so we can work for the common good.

There are those rare times we make decisions that place us at odds with others: family, co-workers, the community. We make those choices and we bear the consequences alone. Sometimes those decisions are selfish. Sometimes they are made based upon conscience.

As Christians we might walk the road of conscience disdained by the secular world, but does not mean we are disconnected. Our connection to life is not the world, but someone far greater.

Popular Translation

Jesus said to his followers

1 I am the real vine and my Father is the vine gardener.

2 He cuts away every branch that does not remain with me.

But he prunes every branch that produces grapes,
so it can produce even more.

3 My Father has already pruned you,
because of the words I spoke to you when I lived with you.

4 Stay close to me and I will stay close to you.

Like a branch that cannot produce grapes by itself
unless it remains on the vine,
you cannot live as my follower,
unless you stay close to me.

5 I am the vine and you are the branches.

Without me, you cannot do anything as my follower.

But the follower who stays close to me and I am close to
will do many things,
just like the branch that produces lots of grapes.

6 If a follower does not stay close to me,
my Father will reject him,
like a branch he throws out and allows to dry up.

He will gather that branch together with the others,
and will throw them into the fire so they can be burned up.

7 If you stay close to me
and you keep my words close,
ask my Father for whatever you want,
and he will answer you.

8 My Father always receives honor
when you become my followers and do many good things.

In John's passage on the vine and the branches, Jesus presented the themes of testing and judgment, intimacy, and assurance of God's benevolent providence. Jesus seemed to say, "No matter what happens, stay close to me, produce the fruit of a good Christian life, and my Father will take care of you." The theme of mutual fidelity threaded its way throughout this passage.

Literal Translation

1 I AM the true vine and MY Father is the grower (of the vineyard).

2 Every branch in ME not carrying fruit he cuts away;
every (branch) carrying fruit he cleans, so it might carry more fruit.

3 Already you are clean through the word that I have spoken to you.

4 Remain in ME and I (will remain) in you.

Just as the branch is not able to bear fruit by itself
unless it remains in the vine,
so you (can) not,
unless you remain in ME.

15:1 "I AM..." John used the phrase "I AM" to refer to the presence of the divine in Jesus. The phrase is an allusion to the name of God, "YHWH" (in Exodus 3:14 as "I AM WHO AM"). "I AM" does not infer pure Being in a philosophic sense, but God's activity of creating and saving ("I AM (the One that created and saves you)").

"I AM the true vine." Vines and vineyards were popular images for Israel in Scripture. See Psalm 80:8-16, Isaiah 5:1-17, Jeremiah 2:21, Ezekiel 15:1-8 and 19:10-14, Hosea 10:1, Matthew 33-46. Because Israel found its origin in God, Jews believed salvation came through his Chosen People. But because the people sinned against God, many Jews believed the situation had become so "polluted," God needed to intervene. Hence, a new vine would arise to bring life (God's salvation) to the people.

15:2 "Every branch...every (branch)" This parallel is an empathic construction in Greek. The grower cuts and prunes the vine so it will produce more. Both activities are the same for the grower. If God is the grower, his "cutting" activity tests believers. Those who have not grown in faith will be scandalized and will fall away. Those who strive to believe will experience stress but will find themselves stronger for the experience. Their test will help evangelize others into the community.

"every (branch) carrying fruit he cleans" God's testing will "clean" believers. Notice the verb referred to notion of "kosher." For John, humans did not make themselves clean for God (i.e, following the precepts of the Law); only God can "clean" humanity. John's notion of "clean" had some parallels with Paul's notion of justification.

15:3 "Already you are clean through the word that I have spoken to you." Since Christians believe Jesus was the presence of God on earth, he was God's Word (see John 1:1-18). God's Word created and saved; in the process, God's word tested and judged. In John's gospel, many of Jesus' speeches scandalized his followers and foes alike (see John 6, for example). Hence, in the final dialogue found in John's gospel, Jesus can declare his remaining disciples "clean" because they have been tested by his teaching.

Chapter 15 in John's gospel stood as the last monologue of Jesus before his death (his testing). Jesus gave this extended speech to his followers at the Last Supper. In context, Jesus looked back at the times with his followers. And he tried to reassure them in the face of the coming test at the Garden of Gesthemane. Many followers had left him because of his teachings. And many would leave him. Those who remained true to him would be stronger in their faith.

What happened to those who were scandalized and left? Most of the time, they were alone, without hope, and cynical about a relationship with God. Their status and attitude marred the good they tried to do. Without the strength of other followers supporting them, their efforts were marginal and came to nothing.

But, those who were tested, their combined strength made a difference. Chastised by the ridicule of the world's critics, the followers would also give up. However, they have intimacy with the Lord to share in common and to sustain them in their battles. The support of the Lord and each other empowered them to attain even greater achievements. They whose fruit was pruned away would grow to produce even more.

5 I am the vine, you are the branches.

The one remaining in ME and I in him,
this one bears much fruit.

Since, without ME, you are not able to do anything.

6 Unless one remains in ME,
he (will be) thrown out and dried out like a branch.

(Growers will) bring these (branches) together and throw (them) into a fire.

(They will be) burned up.

7 If you remain in ME and my words remain in you,
what (things) you might want, ask for (them), and they will happen for you.

8 MY Father is (always) glorified in this (way):
that you might become MY disciples and you might bear much fruit.

15:5 "Since, without me, you are not able to do anything." Because of the shift in the subject back to the second person plural ("you"), this sentence makes more sense attached to 15:5a ( "Since, without me, you are not able to do anything, I am the vine, you are the branches.")

15:6 The sentence actually used the past tense. So certain was John about the judgment of the fallen believer, that the condemnation was already a fact that had not yet happened.

15:7 "If you remain in me and my words remain in you..." Those who are one with Christ and accept testing (his words), live in God's will. They will ask for and receive his will. In no way does being Christian give the believer power over God's providence.

15:8 This sentence is also in the past tense to indicate God was always and is always glorified when believer bears fruit.

John presented the believer with two choices: dependance upon the Lord or condemnation. Indeed, the believer's faith itself was a gift from the Lord. So, the believer could not do anything (even loving the Lord) with God's help.

Depending upon the Lord involved trust in the person of Jesus and accepting the truth of his word. In ancient cultures where illiteracy was the norm, a person's word judged his or her character. It also judged the character of others connected with the person. Did the leader of a group speak wisely and honorably? Or were they foolish and shameful? The foes of Jesus tested him to find his true character. Those interested in joining the Christian community might test followers to measure the character of the Master.

Through the eyes of the community, the words of the Master also judged the honor and wisdom of inquiring strangers. Were they worthy of the gift offered to them? Were they strong enough to follow a demanding life of the Christian?

Hence, the power of the word in the time of Jesus could judge the speaker and the listener. Wisdom and honor demanded truth from the speaker and adherence from the listener. The word of Jesus "cleaned" the listener with its demands (15:2). The words of Jesus were to remain with the follower because they were true (15:7).

Those who were faithful in spite of testing could pray in confidence. They could ask and they could be certain there would be an answer to their requests. Notice that prayer and its answer were to glorify God (15:7-8), not simply fulfill the whims of the follower who prayed. Hence, Christians should pray with utter trust. But their prayers should seek God's will and proclaim God's glory. A goal of prayer was evangelization.

Catechism Theme: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (CCC 2074)

"The fruit referred to in (15:5) is the holiness of a life made fruitful by union with Christ. When we believe in Jesus Christ, partake of his mysteries, and keep his commandments, the Savior himself comes to love, in us, his Father and his brethren. His person becomes, through his Spirit, the living and interior rule of our activity."

How has trust in Christ made a difference in your life? In the lives of those around you?

Staying connected to Christ has a high price. Sometimes it costs us the respect of the world. Sometimes it costs us relationships with others. Sometimes it costs us a sense comfort and community.

But the price of life without Christ is much higher. Imagine what life would be like without faith, without good Christians spouses and friends, without a prayer life and worship to sustains us, without the goodness and Christian charity of others to help along the way. Imagine a life without Christ!

Even if we have to walk by ourselves, even if we have to be loners in the name of Jesus, we will never be truly alone. Remember whose team we're really on, whose name we can invoke in need. Ask and he will be there.

Is there someone you know who is lonely? How can you extend Christian hospitality and fellowship to them this week?