"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 12 The Last Supper and Farewell Discourses
12.2 Table Talk: Section 12.2.5 The Vine (Jn 15.1-11)
151 I am the real vine and my Father is the grower. 2He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit and he prunes clean every branch that does bear fruit, so that it might bear more fruit. 3You are already clean because of the word I have said to you. 4Stay in me as I stay in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so you cannot unless you remain in me.
5I am the vine, you, the branches. They that remain in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you cannot do anything at all. 6If someone does not remain in me, they will be cast aside and dry up. And the labourers1 gather them up and throw them into the fire and they burn up. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you shall ask for what you wish and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9Just as my Father has loved me, I also have loved you; remain in my love! 10If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and I remain in his love.
11I have said this to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
This section is constructed around the final 'I am' with a predicate that John attributes to Jesus in this gospel. As we saw in the Introduction, John uses the phrase 'I am' (ego eimi in Greek) to introduce seven figurative or metaphorical descriptions of Jesus. They are 'I am the living bread' (Jn 6.35); 'I am the light of the world' (Jn 8.12, 9.5); 'I am the gate for the sheep' (Jn 10.7); 'I am the real shepherd' (Jn 10.11); 'I am the resurrection and the life' (Jn 11.25); 'I am the way; indeed I am the true life (or the living truth)' (Jn 14.6); and 'I am the real vine' or 'I am the vine' (Jn 15.1, 15.5).
Here the figurative description of Jesus as a vine serves multiple purposes. First, it links this figurative vine to the prophetic image of the people of Israel as the LORD's vine, as we see in Jeremiah 2.21, in which YHWH reminds the people that they were planted 'as a choice vine, from the purest stock' before they fell away into sin. It also positions Jesus between his disciples, his people, and the Father, for in the first verse (Jn 15.1), he declared 'I am the real vine and my Father is the grower', while in the second (Jn 15.5), he said to the gathered disciples, 'I am the vine, you, the branches.' So through Jesus his disciples, that is, his branches, share with him in the Father's loving care, like the care of the vine grower for the vines.
The description of Jesus as a vine is a living and organic one. Jesus and those referred to in v5 as "you" (the disciples in the first instance and all readers/hearers of this gospel thereafter) are joined to one another as a branch is joined to the rootstock of a vine. This vital link helps to pave the way for the familial relationship that this gospel as a whole holds out to those who follow Jesus and put their trust in him. As the Prologue puts it, 'But as many as did receive [Jesus], to them he gave the ability to become children of God. They are the ones that put their trust in his name, children begotten not of blood nor by the will of the flesh nor by the will of a man, but from God.' (Jn 1.12-13).
The root of the matter, so to speak, is the necessity to remain in love: Jesus has kept his Father's commandments and so remains in the Father's love. So too the disciples must keep Jesus' commandments (the central one of which is to love one another) so as to remain in his love. A vivid image of the twigs that have been cut from a vine and dry up on the ground, good for nothing now except as kindling, underlines the need to remain in love.
1 The labourers: added for sense; original reads they
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