Of Vines and Branches

Get up, let us go (John 14:31c).

These are the last words of chapter fourteen of St. John's Gospel, the first of four chapters regarded by Scripture scholars as the "Farewell Discourse" of Jesus. These words seem to indicate that the discourse is over. Jesus seems to indicate that it is time for them to proceed to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Today's Gospel begins chapter fifteen of St. John's Gospel. Rather than finding Jesus and the disciples on their way, it is obvious that we are still listening to Jesus as he speaks to his disciples in the upper room. Did St. John change his mind and decided to continue the discourse? While that is a possible answer to the conundrum, scholars believe that the Farewell Discourse is woven together using several different traditions about his last words. Today, we are often intrigued by the last words of a loved one who dies. The disciples were no different. Just as we often remember such words differently, there may have been several different memories about that night before Jesus' crucifixion.

Today's passage presents us with another of the famous "I AM" statements of Jesus. I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5a). The emphasis in this particular metaphor is found in the word "remain." As long as we, the branches, "remain" in Jesus, we will bear much fruit. If we do not remain, we will wither and die.

The historical situation for the community of the Beloved Disciple out of which this Gospel springs reminds us that some within the community had become "separatists." They were disassociating themselves from the community. Obviously, these words are aimed at them.

For us, however, they take on a less "historical" and a more "spiritual" meaning. We are reminded that without Jesus, we can do nothing. According to Jesus, when we remain in him, we can accomplish even greater things than he himself accomplished. This may seem almost blasphemous to suggest. Yet if we remember that by remaining in Jesus we allow him to act through us, it becomes obvious that anything we accomplish is really the work of Jesus and the Spirit.

The wood of the branches of the vine is useless. It cannot be used to build or construct anything of use. It doesn't even make a good fire. If it does not remain part of the vine, it simply withers and is tossed into the fire by the vine grower. By remaining connected to the vine, we are capable of great things. Without him we are nothing.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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