Lectionary Year B
May 21, 2000
John 15:1-8

Step V: Distillation/Hermeneutical Bridge


      Christ offers the explanation of just how active God is in caring for the children of God. John's gospel proclaims Christ as the Word, existing in the beginning with God. Christ's proclamation of being the true vine refutes all other approaches to knowing God. Even more emphatically, this pericope presents the need for letting the Word be rooted in our hearts. The disciples were in need of understanding the abiding love of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Karl Barth states, " The whole emphasis of the speech concerning the vine in Jn. 15 is obviously laid on the fact that , as the branches can bear fruit only as they abide in the vine, so the disciples, if they are to be what they are fruitfully, must abide in the One who speaks to them.". "That they are called to abide in Him presupposes that the free and responsible participation of Christians in their status is envisaged in the description of the fellowship between Christ and them." (Barth, Karl, The Doctrine of Reconciliation Vol. IV 3.2, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1962,, p. 545).

      Barth also expounds on what abiding in Christ is. He says, "This abiding is concretely fulfilled, however, as an abiding 'in the grace of God' (Ac. 14:22), Col. 1:23, I Tim. 2:15), in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9), in the doctrine of the apostles (Ac. 2:42), in the special calling in which each is called (I Cor. 7:20), and in brotherly love (Heb. 13:1). Barth details this as the call to obedience for Christians, "Humility and love and selflessness and every other act of Christian virtue, the confession for Christians a simple duty, a fulfillment of the injunction to let their light shine, not in any sense extraordinary, but the ordinary rule of life." (Barth, Karl, The Doctrine of God Vol. II, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957, pp. 600-601.). Christ promises to believers that God's abiding love will prepare us to bear much fruit. Just as the early Christian community understood fruit to mean righteousness, Christians today must understand Christs power to cleanse us of our unrighteousness.

      John Calvin is explicit about our need to abide in Christ's saving grace. He says, "If we no more bear fruit of ourselves than a branch buds out when it is plucked from the earth and deprived of moisture, we ought not to seek any further the potentiality of our nature for good. Nor is this conclusion doubtful: 'Apart from me you can do nothing'... He does not say that we are too weak to be sufficient unto ourselves, but in reducing us to nothing he excludes all estimation of even the slightest little ability... Now Christ simply means that we are dry and worthless wood when we are separated from him, for apart from him we have no ability to do good..." (Calvin, John, The Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX: Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol 1, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, p. 302.).

      The apostle John clearly witnesses to Jesus's warning for those remaining apart from God. The message is that without God's Word dwelling in us, one gambles with remaining apart from God forever. Christ however promises that with God's Word abiding in us, we can ask God, in Christ's name, for God's providing care and God will deliver. Gnostic ideas about the dualism of matter and spirit in life and their belief in special knowledge for attaining salvation, are "withering branches".


1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the tiller of earth. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes it up, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already made clean by reason of the word which I have spoken to you 4 Be rooted in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it be rooted in the vine, neither can you unless you be rooted in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who remains in me, and I in them, they are the ones that bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me, they are cast forth as a branch and wither; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you be rooted in me, and my teachings remain in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.


The hermeneutics of virtuous love, "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13) speaks loudly to me about being rooted in Christ. An interesting account about the production of the classic film "It's A Wonderful Life" helps to note what life not abiding in Christ's love is like. Not only does the story depict the dichotomy of withering and bearing fruit, but so does the story about the completion of this film. The lives that are impacted by love, both in the film and in the audience seems overwhelming. The understanding of divine pruning for ensuring much fruitfulness in our lives if we are living for Christ is at the forefront of my reflections.

(CC) (supplement)
      As I considered this passage, I noticed several salient features that brought new thoughts to my mind. As I considered this text in John, I find the most compelling thought evolving around the idea about "What does it take for a branch to bear much fruit?" In this pericope we find some interesting words that are attributed to Jesus Christ. As I read this parable, I realized that, for the most part, everyone should identify at least with the tree and fruit bearing aspect of the text. In reading the text several times I sensed in one way an overwhelming implication of fruit bearing. Throughout the text we are lead through a process or procedures concerning the vine, the branches, and the husbandmen. It also describes various aspects, actions, and consequences involving these. In between the practical example, spiritual implications are also given.

      As we enter into this text, the stage is set which depicts a vineyard and the keeper of the vineyard. The text continues with practical implications involving a comparison with the vine to the life of those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. I realize that there are other implications that are rich in this text. I have read this text many times before and have gotten various thought provoking insights. While reading the text at this time, I noticed a pattern of events that stood out throughout the text.

      I can not help but to consider the various implications regarding the vine and the branches. An investigation of fruit bearing plants may be fruitful. I would research how vineyards are cared for in every detail, especially those implied in the text. I would also probe into the aspect of pruning, trimming, cutting off dead branches, and other aspect of ensuring that the plant produce fruit. Once this is done, I would then consider a careful analogy of how that relates to how Jesus is comparing it in the passage.

      As stated earlier, I feel that this passage of scripture leads me into the thought of, "What does it take to bear much fruit?" The Greek word (karpos) for the word fruit appears in verses 2,4,5, and 8. The Greek word (pleion) for more appears in verse 2 when being addressed with fruit. Then in verse 5 and 8 the word (polus) for the word much appears. It seems to me that initially, the objective was to get the branch in the process of getting it to begin bearing more fruits. It appears to me that the ultimate objective as the text continues, though is to bear much fruit. This would, of course, be accomplished by following the guidelines that is prescribed in the grooming and positional aspects of whole scenario.

      This brings me back to the thought of, "What does it take to bear much fruit," or possibly, "How can one bear much fruit?" For example, in order to bear fruit, the branch must endure some manipulation, trimming, or pruning, in order to begin this process. As Christians, we must endure the chastening and correction that the Lord does in order to make us more effective. Also in order for the branch to bear much fruit, it must remain connected to the vine. As Christians, we must remain in fellowship and communion with the Lord in order to bear much fruit. This can be applied in many ways. One can bear much fruit in being an example for the Lord as well as witnessing and winning souls into the kingdom of God. The consequences of not staying connected is also exemplified in this passage as not being able to bear fruit and as being cast off to be burned. No one wants to be cast off and put aside as non-productive. The reward, however, for abiding in the vine is, first of all, receiving answers to prayer. But, ultimately, I believe that the greatest aspect of this entire process is that God will be glorified that one has born much fruit. Hopefully through this process one can observe how to bear much fruit. It seems that this is expected of those who will be called disciples. It is also expressed significantly in the text that one can not accomplish this by themselves, but the Lord is the one who will assist in the process.

(LC) (supplement) - Like most pastors, I am working on this Gospel text. I'm not sure which exegetical step I am responding to, as I am new to your terminology, but one correspondent said a study of the care of vines could help the process.

I looked up "grape" in my ancient Britannica, and I discovered that of course unhealthy and unproductive branches are pruned. But healthy branches are also pruned, so that more fruit may be produced.

I thought of Craddock's question, "how could you tell?" Well, obviously the useless branches are chopped off from their connection to the vine, while the healthy ones are pruned off from the end, and remain connected. Then I thought about how, even as I abide in Christ, I may be expected to be pruned. Isn't that the process of sanctification? Is it not part of the plan that I will be cleansed of those parts of myself that stray too far away from the vine, that take too much energy away from the fruit, that threaten the stability of the whole plant?

I'm not sure about the botannical nomenclature, but reading my old encyclopedia I got the impression that the only purpose of the branches on the vine WERE to produce the fruit. The vine supports the branches, the branches make the grapes.

In relating the passage to the OT texts: I think it is interesting that in the OT, esp. Isaiah texts, Israel is compared to the whole vine. But the vine does not produce, so God must remove the whole plants.

But in this passage from John, Jesus is the vine, the people are the branches. Its as if God has given the people a support system, the vine/ Jesus Christ, so the branches have a better chance to stay connected and produce fruit. Perhaps this will produce more thoughts from others.

(CU) here are some supplemental step 5 thoughts, how to move toward proclamation.

One entry point for a congregation: What are the life-giving "vines" in their life? What is it in our members' lives that inspires them to activity? to that which is productive and satisfying? I think the preacher will do well to help people identify where the fruit-bearing places are in life. For exp., for some people their work is their source of life, that which inspires a bountiful yield. For some, their family is the focus. Music is one person's vine; it keeps him connected to his spirituality and as a result he is an inspirational musician.

This text will be lost to the congregation if we cannot help people identify experiences of being connected to something vital and life-giving so that fruit-bearing is a natural consequence.

Once people have identified these inspirations, then we can move toward exploration of what it means for Jesus to be that vine, that life-giving source. What fruits are produced by that vital connection?

In the full pericope, which includes next week's lection, Jesus says that he has told the disciples all this vine-connectional-love stuff so that their joy may be full. I think it is important that the sermon function, not as vehicle for judgement, but to move people toward joy. The text defines the sermon's intent.

Website response from BK:

When viewed in the context of Easter, this text shows how the resurrected Jesus acts in the world today, namely, through the lives and actions of his followers. The metaphor of the vine and the branches can be seen as a symbol of the resurrected Jesus (the vine) continuing to live and love through his disciples (the branches). The branches bear fruit (good actions in the world), allowing the goodness of the vine to be made manifest. Teresa of Avila (as John Michael Talbot has captured in song) says
"Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on the world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world...."
We bring the life and the love of the risen Jesus into the world through our service (as Mother Teresa's Simple Path tells us, "The fruit of love is service").

Another Website response:

I am a pastor who appreciates the use of the internet and technology to help make my work easier. I appreciated the work done on the lessons for 5/21, especially the hermeneutical bridge. Information such as this makes it easier to compile data for the writing of my sermons. Thank you for the excellent scholarship.

Another Website response from J:

Your exegesis give me insight into the meanings according to the contexts I am responding to. All congregations are different and therefore need to be fed differently. The insight I gather from your exegetical studies help me to meet my congregations where they are and to get them on the track the Holy Spirit is visioning me as to where they need to be.
I hope you will be able to continue. Thank you.

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