Year B: Fifth Sunday of Easter
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.
Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. 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. 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. 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. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
- What fruit have you borne that you consider possible only because Christ dwells in you and you in Christ?
- When have you experienced a “pruning” experience in your life? What did you learn from this pruning? Tell the story
- How is staying connected to the word and the vine a community experience? What and who helps you to “remain” in Jesus?
- “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” This statement suggests that our requests of God will be done when we learn to pray as Jesus would pray, (putting on the mind of Christ). In what ways have your requests of God and how you perceive answers to prayer evolved as you have grown?
Margaret Nutting Ralph
The setting for our reading from John is Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before he dies. In John’s Gospel this last meal is not the Passover meal, as it is in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke). We read the setting for this meal at the beginning of chapter 13: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end…So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments” (John 13:1, 2b-4a). Jesus then proceeds to wash the disciples’ feet and then to give them a long theological discourse. Our Lectionary reading today is part of that discourse.
John’s timing of Jesus’ last meal has Jesus killed at the same time that the lambs are being slaughtered for the Passover meal. “Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and be taken down” (John 19:31). The preparation day was for the Passover, which in John falls on the Sabbath. That is why the Sabbath day of that week was a solemn one. This is one more way in which John is teaching that Jesus is the new paschal lamb. Remember that John, in his very first chapter, has John the Baptist give testimony to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29b).
Because Jesus knows that he will die and that the disciples will suffer from this separation, he assures the disciples that he is the true vine and they are the branches. If they remain in him, they will bear much fruit. John’s audience is also feeling a separation from Jesus. Jesus has not returned on the clouds of heaven as expected. John wants his audience to understand that the risen Christ dwells in them and they in him. So, as we read Jesus’ discourse, we will hear it directed not only at the disciples who are present, but at John’s audience and at ourselves.
Jesus tells the disciples that he is the true vine. The image of God’s people as a vineyard and God as the vineyard owner appears in both the Old and New Testaments. However, not every vine in God’s vineyard is a good vine. The prophet Jeremiah pictures God saying:
I had planted you, a choice vine of fully tested stock;
How could you turn out obnoxious to me, spurious vine?
Though you scour it with soap and use much lye.
The stain of your guilt is still before me, the Lord God. (Jer 2:21-22)
Jesus, in contrast to sinful people, is the true vine. Those who dwell in Jesus bear the fruit that glorifies the Father, not the fruit that is obnoxious to the Father.
Jesus does not promise the disciples that if they dwell in him, they will escape sufferings However, their suffering will have a purpose. Jesus tells the disciples, “He [the Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” The disciples’ suffering is pruning so that they may bear even more fruit.
Even after Jesus has been killed the disciples are to remain in Jesus. ‘‘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. 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.
Jesus also teaches the disciples that they will be held accountable for their actions after Jesus is killed: “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.” In this passage Jesus is not saying that those who do not dwell in him will burn in hell. Rather, Jesus is using an apocalyptic image of judgement—fire—to tell the disciples that those who do not dwell in Jesus and bear much fruit will be held accountable for their actions.
Finally, Jesus tells the disciples, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” This is not to say that if the disciples ask for something that God would not otherwise have given them, God will change his mind and relent. Rather, it is saying that as the disciples dwell in Christ and Christ’s word dwells in them their very desires will be conformed to God’s will for them. Once their will is conformed to God’s will, they will ask what they will and it will be done for them.
The Fruitfulness of Staying Connected
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
Some branches produce fruit and are pruned, cared for and nurtured. Some branches do not produce fruit and are removed, thrown away and burned.
We are a people of productivity. It is, for the most part, the standard by how we live and the measure of our success. It is built into our lives everywhere. Productivity is the basis of our economic system. Those who produce are rewarded and get more. Those who do not produce are thrown out. Within our educational system the students who do well and produce are recognized and supported while those who do not produce get lost in the system. Professors know well the mantra, “Publish or perish.” Careers and promotions are based on productivity. Productivity at some level is at the core of the debates around poverty, welfare, healthcare, and the elderly. “They” do not produce and our care of and for them often reflects what we think of that.
We have been convinced that productivity is the goal and only the fittest survive. I wonder if that isn’t how many of us live our spiritual lives. How many of us have been told, in some form or fashion, or come to believe that pruned branches go to heaven and removed branches go to hell? Pruned branches produced so they are rewarded while non-productive branches are punished.
In that (mis)understanding fruit is God’s demand upon our life and the means by which we appease God. If we are not careful, we’ll get stuck categorizing ourselves and one another into fruit bearing or non-fruit bearing branches. There is, however, a deeper issue than the production of fruit. Productivity does not usually create deep abiding and intimate relationships. It creates transactions. Jesus is not talking about or demanding productivity. He wants and offers connectivity, relationship, and intimacy.
Fruit or the lack thereof is a manifestation of our interior life and health. It describes and reveals whether we are living connected or disconnected lives. Fruit production is the natural consequence of staying connected. You can see that in long-term friendships, marriages, community loyalty. We do not choose whether or not we produce fruit. We do, however, choose where we abide and how we stay connected.
You know how that is. Sometimes we lose touch with a particular person. We no longer know where he or she is, what she is doing, or what is happening in her life. One day we run into him or her. It’s a bit awkward. No one is sure what to say. There’s not much to talk about. There was no deep abiding presence, the connection is lost, and it seems as if what was has been thrown away. Other people we run into after five or ten years and the conversation immediately picks up where we left off those many years ago. Even though we were apart we never left each other. There was and remains a connection and mutual abiding that time, distance, and the circumstances of life cannot sever.
“What fruit am I producing?” “How much?” “Is it an acceptable quality?” Those are good questions if we understand and ask them diagnostically, as questions not about the quantity of our lives but the quality of our lives. That’s what Jesus is after. That is the deeper question he is asking. It is the invitation to join the conversation, jump into the game, to participate, and to live fully alive. That only happens when the life, the love, and the goodness and holiness of Christ flow in us. We become an extension of and manifest his life, love, and holiness.
It is a relationship of union even as a branch is united to the vine. We live our lives as one. This is not just about relationship with Jesus; it affects and is the basis for our relationships with one another. Love for Jesus, one another, and ourselves become one love. We soon discover we are living one life and the fruit of that life and love is abundant, overflowing, and Father glorifying.