‘I am the true vine’ JOHN 15:1–8
By June Renie
In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus speaks to His disciples in terms of vine imagery. Vineyards are commonplace in Israel’s landscape. The vine is rooted in the vine’s root which in this imagery is God the Father.
It is from the vine that the disciples become the branches. Branches take their nourishment from the vine which Jesus represents. They spread out and bear fruit. It is the reason the wine is called the “fruit of the vine”.
“I am the true vine…” (Jn 15:1). Old Testament portrays Israel as the chosen vine but because of Israel’s transgressions, references to Israel were largely negative. “I… planted you a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How then have you turned into degenerate branches of a foreign vine …” (Jer 2:21). Israel became the false vine.
Jesus, now resurrected and raised to life by the Father, has become the true “vine”. In John 15:5, Jesus says, “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing…” It is this contrast between Israel as the false vine that failed to produce good fruit and the now resurrected Jesus as the true vine that becomes the embodiment of everything Israel was supposed to be: fruitfulness, intimacy, and love.
Jesus is careful to refer to Himself as “I am the true Vine and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn 15:1). This is a distinctive characterisation of Jesus’ identity and mission on Earth. It is the reality of life in Christ, the abundant life which is available to us in the present and not necessarily in the hope of any future reunion in Heaven.
John’s revelation of Jesus’ identity once more as ‘I am’ complements previously stated identity characteristics such as “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). ‘I am’ is God and these ‘I am’ metaphors identify Jesus as God.
The recognition of Jesus as ‘I am’ places us with Moses at Mt Horeb, at the site of the burning bush. It was there that God revealed Himself as “I am who I am…This is my name for all time…”
In today’s gospel the resurrected Jesus, now portrayed in the imagery of the vine with His disciples as branches, exhorts His disciples, who represent us as the people of God, to accept and always remember that the resurrected Jesus is our vine source. “I am the vine you are the branches…” (Jn 15:5).
This positions us as partakers in the intimate relationship of an abiding and ever-present love that binds together God the Father (the root), His Son the resurrected Jesus (the vine), and His chosen disciples (the branches) who today represent us as the community of believers.
We are invited in John 15:4 to “make your home in me as I make mine in you” and again Jesus states that in this home “I am the vine, you are the branches”. Twice we are invited to be rooted in the vine. This invitation is promise of a permanent and lasting presence of Jesus with us which transforms, empowers, and commissions us as disciples.
“My father is the vinedresser” suggests a mutual relationship between Father, though superior in being with the Son, in mutuality with each other and dependent on each other to culture the branches so that they are made fruitful and abundant.
“Every branch in me that bears no fruit He cuts away… and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes to make it bear even more.” This symbiotic relationship is to the benefit of the vine’s fruitfulness. Jesus reassures His disciples, “You are pruned already by means of the word I have spoken to you.”
The narrative continues, “Make your home in me, as I make my home in you, as a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself but must remain part of the vine…”
Jesus is here exhorting His disciples to remain in Him, through His Word, as they go about building His Church and continue its mission to “go out into the whole world; proclaim the Good news to all creation” (Mk 15:16).
The gospel meditations for May are by June Renie, a retired law librarian and a graduate of the Catholic Bible Institute. She is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist at St Anthony’s parish, Petit Valley.