Year B 5th Sunday Easter: John 15,01-08

15:01 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

15:02 Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.

15:03 You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.

15:04 Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.

15:05 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.

15:06 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch -- and withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.

15:07 If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it.

15:08 It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit and be my disciples

John divides his Gospel into two big sections. In the first section (chapters 01-12) we hear about the signs Jesus is doing. The second section is composed around what happened during Jesus’ Passover (chapters 13-21): his speech at the Last Supper, his passion, death and resurrection. Today’s Gospel is a fragment of Jesus’ speech at Last Supper.

This speech is also to be divided into two divisions. In the first division Jesus speaks to his disciples (chapters 13-16). In the second division he speaks to his Father (chapter 17).

In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking to his disciples, borrowed from 13-16. But that first division of Jesus’ speech is to be divided again into two parts. In the first part Jesus answers questions from his disciples (13:31 - 14:31). In the second part (15-16) Jesus gives his own reflections. Today’s Gospel is the beginning of the part in which Jesus gives his own reflections.

It starts with Jesus’ last ‘I-AM-word’ (see reflection last week): ‘I AM the true vine’, repeated in vs.05. That is imagery. It reminds us of the first sign Jesus did in Kana: where he changed the water of Moses’ Law into the wine of his grace. That story was an illustration of the words in John’s Prologue (01:17): ‘The Law was given through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ.’ Note that the word ‘truth’ is repeated in our text of today: ‘True vine’.

Striking is the word ‘remaining’. It is to be heard seven times in this short text. It is a favourite word of John. We remember that in the first chapter John told how two disciples followed Jesus and how he asked them: ‘What are you looking for?’ And how the disciples replied, ‘Master, where do you remain?’ ‘And they saw where he remained...’ Afterwards one of them, Andrew, will confess to his brother, Simon Peter, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ That made us curious. What did he see: that he could say afterwards, ‘We have found the Messiah’? (01:35-41) Where did Jesus remain, actually?

The answer is to be found just after the reading of today (15:10), ‘I have kept my Father’s commandments and I remain in his love.’ Jesus remains in his Father, in the love of his Father.

And today he invites his disciples to share that ‘remaining’, to take part of his ‘remaining’ in the Father. There will be a chain of ‘remaining’. Jesus remains in the Father, the disciples will remain in Jesus and that will make that they will bear fruit... which ‘remains’. (15:16).

‘Remaining’ turns out to be the way God exists. And Jesus invites his disciples to take part of that ‘remaining’, so that Father, Son and disciples share the same ‘remaining’, the same divine existence. The shadow of the Holy Trinity goes by: Father, Son and Holy Spirit... in his disciples! ‘I am the true vine...’ From me derives the grace. My Father is the vinedresser: my grace: it finds its source in the Father. The disciples are invited to graft themselves onto his vine, so that they become a source of the true vine of the Father as well, just as Jesus was/is.

And I don’t forget that these words are written so that you and I may have faith and may believe that these words are meant for you and me as well (cf. 20:31).

Picture Meditation

I am looking at a stained glass window from the 19th century in the church of Saint Germain in Pleyben, Brittany, France. The artist divides the vine over three windows.

In the top of a vine, placed in the central window, we see Jesus: in his left hand he has a globe with a cross, sign that he is the king of the universe. With his right hand he gives the blessing of the Holy Trinity, symbolized by the three fingers. The tree finds its roots in a source. Two deer are drinking from it. They are a reference to Psalm 42, ‘As a deer yearns for running streams, I yearn for you, my God.’ Note that out of the source of streaming water a vine grows: allusion to the fact that Jesus turns the water of God’s Law into the wine of grace. The leaves of the vine tree are not only green (colour of hope), but also gold (colour of faith) and red (colour of love).

In the branches of the vine we see bunches of grapes and the twelve apostles with their attributes. The branches of the tree and the placing of the apostles show a surprising symmetry, sign of perfection.

All the apostles are looking to the centre as if they are pondering on Jesus’ words. There is one exception: one of the two disciples just below Jesus. He is looking at me. He looks like Jesus and he carries a little green plant in his hands.

What does he say to me?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ