The Vine and the Branches
I’m preaching this Sunday (April 29). So I’ve been pondering the gospel lesson for this, the fifth Sunday of Easter.
It comes from John 15, where Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” (15: 5)
Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of this particular passage. It’s always sounded a bit too Hallmark-y for me. Flowers blooming in the spring, tra-la, tra-la.
But then I noticed the final verses of Chapter 14, those that directly proceed the vine and branches passage. Rule of biblical interpretation, “read the text in context.” Read around the assigned passage.
Get a load of this. Chapter 14 concludes as Jesus says to the disciples, “I will not longer talk much with you (actually he does keep talking with them for three more chapters, but never mind), for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.”
Whatever else one may say about those verses, they are neither pleasant nor pastoral, as in flowers blooming in the spring.
They are Jesus’ words to a church that finds itself as odds with a world in the grip, and power, of Sin and Death. And those last words, “Rise, let us be on our way.” Jesus speaks to a church that is engaged in the world and finding such engagement tough and costly.
That changed how I heard, “I am the vine, you are the branches; those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” He speaks to those who struggle to stay connected in the midst of engagement and challenge in world that can be harsh.
For a long time, I’ve argued that the task of the church is to “rooted in faith and engaged in the world.” The both/ and is the point. Reading John 15 in its larger context, it says something quite similar.
But, it could be there’s another reason for my ambivalence about the “vine and branches” thing. Years ago, at a low point, I packed off to retreat place where Sr. Katherine gave me daily scriptures to ponder and pray.
On day two, this was the text. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” I was praying the passage, over and over, when it was as if I heard a voice that said, with no small exasperation, “I am the vine, you are a branch — what part of this don’t you get?”
It was a reminder, which I needed, to let God be God. Let God work through you. Don’t try to do it all by yourself.
Eastertide blessings all around!