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Monday, May 4, 2009

+ E A S T E R + F I V E +

Lexegete | Year B | St. Mark

Fifth Sunday of Easter | May 10, 2009
Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31 (27)
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

Prayer of the Day
O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. I am the vine, you | are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them | bear much fruit. Alleluia. (John 15:5)


1a. CONTEXT: John 15:1-8

Our text is a parable within the "Farewell Discourse" of chapters 13-17.
A farewell discourse functions to teach about discipleship and has the
following elements: talk of death, prediction of hard times, a listing of
virtues and vices, a legacy and succession of authority. Our texts contains
a virtue and a vice and talk of death. The discourse is aggressive and
challenging and functions to put the best face forward in trying times.

The first two verses give the topic of the parable and may come from the
early stage of the Johannine community when the Temple cult is being
replaced by the new Jesus cult. I date the rest of the parable to the
excommunication period.

The Old Testament background is the metaphor of Israel as the vine and
God as the vinedresser, cf. Is. 5:1ff. God chooses the vine and judges the
vine if it does not produce good grapes, i.e. keep covenant fidelity. This
parable has been reworked by the Johannine community. Jesus is now the
vine, not Israel. The branches are members of the church. The Father will
judge those members who are not faithful to the new covenant.

1b. TEXT: John 15:1-8

John 15:1-8
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

© The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


1Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή, καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν. 2πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρον καρπόν, αἴρει αὐτό, καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸν φέρον καθαίρει αὐτὸ ἵνα καρπὸν πλείονα φέρῃ. 3ἤδη ὑμεῖς καθαροί ἐστε διὰ τὸν λόγον ὃν λελάληκα ὑμῖν: 4μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί, κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν. καθὼς τὸ κλῆμα οὐ δύναται καρπὸν φέρειν ἀφ∍ ἑαυτοῦ ἐὰν μὴ μένῃ ἐν τῇ ἀμπέλῳ, οὕτως οὐδὲ ὑμεῖς ἐὰν μὴ ἐν ἐμοὶ μένητε. 5ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος, ὑμεῖς τὰ κλήματα. ὁ μένων ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ οὗτος φέρει καρπὸν πολύν, ὅτι χωρὶς ἐμοῦ οὐ δύνασθε ποιεῖν οὐδέν. 6ἐὰν μή τις μένῃ ἐν ἐμοί, ἐβλήθη ἔξω ὡς τὸ κλῆμα καὶ ἐξηράνθη, καὶ συνάγουσιν αὐτὰ καὶ εἰς τὸ πῦρ βάλλουσιν καὶ καίεται. 7ἐὰν μείνητε ἐν ἐμοὶ καὶ τὰ ῥήματά μου ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ, ὃ ἐὰν θέλητε αἰτήσασθε καὶ γενήσεται ὑμῖν. 8ἐν τούτῳ ἐδοξάσθη ὁ πατήρ μου, ἵνα καρπὸν πολὺν φέρητε καὶ γένησθε ἐμοὶ μαθηταί.

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975,
United Bible Societies, London

2. ANALYSIS: John 15:1-8

John 15:1 -' Ego eimi 'he ampelos 'he 'alethine, kai ho pater mou ho georgos
'estin - "I am the true vine" does not equal "I am" in the divine sense,
according to most commentators. In viewing this parable from the
excommunication period I read "I am" in the divine sense. The issue
leading up to the expulsion from the synagogues is found in 5:18, "...called
God his own Father, making himself equal to God." Alethos and its
counterpart, alethinos, found here are vintage Johannine words which mean
"genuine" or "dependable."

15:2 - me pheron karpon -- The new virtue in the Johannine community is
"bearing fruit." This is an aggressive and challenging criterion for
membership in the church. "Bearing fruit" means eternal life, (4:36).
karpon pheron means to die (12:24). It means "loving" others in the group,
i.e. laying down one's life for one's friends (15:13).

"Bearing fruit" is to do what Jesus did, keep the Father's commandment…

10:18. This new virtue means the death of members of the church as it
meant for Jesus, (16:2). It functions to help members feel good about
their excommunication from the synagogue. The opposite of this is the
new vice, "not bearing fruit." This may refer to the "crypto-Christians"
who didn't want to express their faith publicly for fear of expulsion from
the synagogues. 12:42-43. (See Brown, THE COMMUNITY OF THE BELOVED
DISCIPLE, pp. 22, 71). It may also refer to other believers who lacked
genuine faith and left the church, (6:60-66).

katharei - is a double meaning word. In the agricultural sense it means to
remove or cut off dead or living parts or branches of a plant to improve its
growth or shape. Yet this is what is going to happen to the members who
don't bear fruit. Vawter (see JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY 63:148) notes
this word-play. To the members of the Johannine community, katharizo
meant purified or cleansed (cf. 13:10,11). They have already been purified
through hearing and receiving Christ's words and abiding with him. "Being
purified" means being bold and risking one's life. Hence ultimate
purification comes from dying, not from Jewish purity rites.
This teaching on discipleship is consistent with the synoptics, cf. Mark
8:34-6, but has a highly sectarian flavor here.

15:6 - kai synagousin auta kai eis to pur ballousin kai kaietai--The
sectarian language continues here and echoes verse 2. In reaction to their
expulsion from the synagogues, the community is tightening group
membership. They are advocating the excommunication of members who
are unwilling to go public with their faith. One has to do what Jesus did or
be expelled from the church.

15:7 - 'ean meinete 'en emoi kai ta remata mou en humin meine, ho ean
thelete aitesasthe kai geneisetai humin -- "Abiding" (meinete) is a key
word in the fourth gospel. In 1:33 the Spirit abided on Jesus which
signified his holiness/purity. The former disciples of the baptizer abided
with Jesus in 1:39 and Jesus abided with the Samaritans in 4:40. The
"abiding" resulted in their belief in Christ and their holiness/purity as
linked to Jesus' holiness. If one abides with Jesus that person is holy and
pure in the covenant community. "Ask whatever you will, and it shall be
done for you." This promise is repeated in 15:16 and 16:23-24. It is the
promise of the Holy Spirit (14:15-17,26) who will be Christ's legacy, and
will guide, comfort, and continue to teach them, 16:13l. The promise
implies peace and joy (15:11, 16:24) and ultimately eternal life (4:36).

15:8 - en touto edoxasthe ho pater mou, hina karpon polun pherete kai
geneisthe 'emoi mathetai -- Death leads to glorification (21:19). Just as
God was glorifieda through Jesus' death (13:31,32), so will God be
glorified through the deaths of the disciples. This functions to make death
acceptable. There are going to be hard times and you will die, but that
will bring about your eternal joy with God.

The parable is written for members of the Johannine community during a
trying time. Earlier sign faith was good enough for membership. Later, cf.
4:4-42, faith based on Jesus' words was the criteria for membership.

Now doing works or "bearing fruit" is the new criteria for membership.
By laying down their lives the Johannine Christians will prove their

3. STRATEGY: John 15:1-8

In keeping with the Easter season and the upcoming Rogation Days, I
want to use the vine metaphor in a sermon on discipleship. I suggest
pointing out the sectarian attitude of the Johannine community during this
stage of development particularly with regard to membership criteria. a I
would contrast this with the other membership model of the Church which
emphasizes building up the body. As an illustration, I would point out that
a gardener prunes and ties back large, leafy, viney plants like cucumbers
or squash, so other plants have an opportunity to grow in the garden.

Staying with the metaphor, it is clearly the case that sometimes in the
church we see some fellow members of the body who are overshadowed or
in some obstructed by others, perhaps even by ourselves. Sometimes we
must learn not only how to lead or point to "the way," but to know when we
are standing in the way of others' growth in grace. As Christ's disciples,
it bodes well for us to be " pruned " by Word and Sacrament, so that other
members have an opportunity to grow in their faith as well. A sermon
along these lines, coming at this time in the calendar year, might link up
easily with the preoccupations of those who are cultivating gardens or
pruning their vines.

4. REFERENCES: John 15:1-8

NY: Paulist Press, 1979.

Vawter, Bruce, C.M. "The Gospel According to St. John," ch. 63 of THE
JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY, ed. R.E. Brown, J.A. Fitzmyer and R.O.
Murphy. Englewood Cliffs,N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.


For the imagery of vines and growth, I particularly like the following for
this Sunday:


NOW THE GREEN BLADE RISETH (HB 204, LBW 148), if not used previously
during this Easter Season.


To capture some of the flavor of the Johannine community described
above, a good choice would be:


Some other possible hymns for today are as follows:







Exegete: Father Lance B. Almeida †

Exegete: The late Lance B. Almeida was an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Eastern Massachusetts and, later, Maine before his untimely death. We miss him still.

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