Lexegete ™ | Year A | Mark
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER • April 29, 2011
Psalm 66:8-20 (8)
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21 [ or/and John 15:1-8 ]
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 14:15-21 / John 15:1-8
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 upcoming Rogation days, I
want to use the vine metaphor for 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
Brown, Raymond E. THE COMMUNITY OF THE BELOVED DISCIPLE. New York,
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.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: John 15:1-8
For the imagery of vines and growth, I particularly like the following for
THOU HALLOWED CHOSEN MORN OF PRAISE (HB 198),
NOW THE GREEN BLADE RISETH (HB 204, LBW 148), if not used previously
during this Easter Season.
WE PLOW THE FIELDS AND SCATTER (HB 291, LBW 362).
To capture some of the flavor of the Johannine community described
above, a good choice would be:
ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, GIVE THANKS TO THE RISEN LORD! (HB 178).
Some other possible hymns for today are as follows:
SON OF GOD, ETERNAL SAVIOR (LBW 364)
DEAR CHRISTIANS, ONE AND ALL (LBW 299)
NOW WE JOIN IN CELEBRATION (LBW 203)
SENT FORTH BY GOD'S BLESSING (Ash Grove: LBW221).
Exegete: Lance B. Almeida †
6. FURTHER READING: John 14:15-21
Today's reading is one of the few occasions during Year A where the
LBW Lectionary and the New Common Lectionary are in agreement while
the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary diverges. Since this is the
exception rather than the rule [and since John 14:15-21 reappears in Year
B of the BCP Lectionary], we have covered Jn. 15:1-8 this week. A few notes and one reference on John 14:15-21 follow. While it is not the "final" word of Easter, it does convey a mood of farewell which carries over from John 14:1-14. It is clear that the closest followers of Jesus are apt to feel cast adrift in the wake of Jesus'
presence among them. The Spirit is promised as a parakletos, for comfort
and counsel(see Jn. 14:15-17, 25-6). This theme is picked up in the readings for Pentecost in the BCP Lectionary under Jn. 14:8-17.
One of the central features of this pericope as well as others in John is
the bold fusion of love and loyalty in Jesus' way of speaking, especially in
14:21--"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, that is the one
who loves me; and all who love me will be loved by God, and I will love
them and manifest myself to them" (AILL). To fully comprehend this , it
is important to use the word "love" with the utmost care. The passage is
referring specifically to the verb 'agapao, not to some romantic notion of
"love." But in our attempt to "agapize" the love we see around us , we
often end up explaining it away, do we not? One strategy for preaching
this text may be not to preach it but teach it, i.e., to illuminate the
whole way in which the church speaks of love. Without setting up straw
persons, examples of contemporary distortions of "love" are readily
available. Likewise, careful observation reveals many valid and vivid
illustrations of agape in the life of God's people, in our own personal lives
and even in the daily papers. If not, we are--of all who commend or
command "love "--most miserable!
But it is crucial that we not lapse into snap formulations that make a
law out of love. The Fourth Evangelist is not here laying down a new law.
Instead, he is describing for us the conditions under which it is truly
possible to live by the commandments of Jesus by loving one another.
An apt analogy for this union/communion, even in this age of
disintegration, is Marriage, something mysterious and sacramental. The
vows in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) and others like them, say little or
nothing of "obedience" in marriage, yet it is hard to conceive of an open
and honest marriage which excluded sheer, mutual obedience, that love
may abound. (Obviously, we are not speaking here of the one-way
obedience of one spouse to the other as ritualized in the not too distant
past, but a shared, loving, two-way obedience.)
Finally, it is possible to see in this farewell message of Jesus a glimpse
into the future, not only the Parousia (14: 18f.) , but also a future that is
brimming with the energy and synergy that obtains in the love of God and the grace of God (compare 14:12-14 with 14:21). This passage is not a job description for sainthood, but it is a message of hope and joy for sinners who simply come to "know" Jesus.
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