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Monday, May 23, 2011


Lexegete ™ | Year A | Mark



Acts 17:22-31

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


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: 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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