Thought for the week - 2 May
Gospel reading John 15 1-8
Jesus said to his disciples: 1‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’
The word ‘Abide’ occurs eight times in this short passage of 174 words. For St John it is a vitally important word. All together in his writings it occurs 53 times – 34 in the Gospel alone. If it is important for John, then it is important for us! So, what does it mean? The original Greek word is μένω (men- oh). Literally it means in English to stay, to remain or to dwell. Really it cannot be translated into any one of those alone – it is more of a combination word, which depends on the context. As an example, we might ‘stay’ at an hotel, or we might stay on one spot in a field. They sort of mean the same – but different of course. Do you see what I mean? In the first we mean that we have a room there, in the second we mean stand still. The same – but different.
In our passage from St John’s Gospel today the best way of translating the word is probably live with. Rather as we might say we live with our husband, wife, or partner. It means more than live as in live in a flat, it means a shared, mutual experience. It means sharing meals, sharing the bills, it means mutual choices about furniture – all of that and more.
In the context of this passage about the vine, this is very important. John’s hearers would be very accustomed to the care of vines. Almost everyone, even the relatively poor might well have had a vine of their own – and would have a pretty good idea about its care and nurture. To abide in the vine is NOT just about being able to benefit from the sap travelling up the branch from the root. Important though that is, there is more to it than that. If we look at this passage and think it is just about staying in contact with Jesus, much more that is worthy of a nag about being regular a church, regular at the Bible and the sacraments. Important, vital as those things are – they are not the whole story. As John indicates in so many other places, this is about the covenant with God, and also the covenant with our brothers and sisters in the Christian community.
Sorry – a bit more about care of the vine!
For a vine to be healthy, to grow, to bear good grapes all the elements are vital. The root is the basis of it all – but the plant will not thrive, certainly will not produce good grapes without the branches and the leaves. The root produces nutrients from the soils – but the leaves gather the vital energy of the sun. Without leaves the plant will die. But the leaves must be in balance too. Strip all the leaves from one part, the whole vine suffers.
So how does that transfer to us? What does it mean for a church community such as us? Well, it certainly means that we need to be rooted in Christ and his church. We need to be fed with the sap of the Church, the sacraments, the scriptures, the liturgy. Without that we cannot survive. But this church family is in a covenant relationship with God – and with one another. We each contribute to the whole. We are called to soak up and feed in the energy we get from living our lives – it is not all one way. Just as God entered a partnership with Adam & Eve to till the soil and name the animals, so God enters into a relationship with each one of us at our Baptism. If we are to be a fruitful branch in God’s vine, we must play our part too. It is vital that we share fellowship, that we share one-another’s company. It is vital that we know one-another and pray for one-another. It means too, contributing our time, our energy, our money. Just as each leaf feeds into the vine and draws from it at the same time, so we must work mutually.
To ABIDE in the vine of Christ is more than taking our regular seat Sunday by Sunday – or when we feel like it. It is also about our mutual care for one another, it is about our commitment to one another. It is about giving effort to our social activities – even if they are not quite our thing. It is about contributing our money and our time to the whole for the benefit of the entire vine.
Abide in me says Jesus, and you will bear much fruit. Without Him and without one-another we can do nothing. Feed on the sap – feed in the sun. That way good fruit is produced – and what can be more attractive than a luscious juicy bunch of grapes – or a lovely glass of wine!