John 15: 1-5 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just 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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6
The metaphor of the vine suggests a radically non-hierarchical model for the church. As the description of a vine and its branches suggests, no branch has pride of place; no one branch can claim precedence or privilege over any other. The descriptions of the cutting and pruning of the branches in 15:2 and 6 underscore this point. Fruitfulness is the only differentiation among branches, and the discernment of fruitfulness falls to the gardener (God) alone, not to any of the branches. It is the gardener’s role to prune and shape the vine to enhance fruitfulness. All branches are thus the same before God, distinguishable only by their fruit. There is neither status nor rank among the branches. Hierarchy among the branches of the vine is precluded, because all members grow out of the one central vine, Jesus, and are tended equally by the one gardener.
This dimension of John’s metaphor also poses some serious challenges to the ways in which institutional church life is understood and maintained. For the Fourth Gospel, there is only one measure of one’s place in the faith community – to love as Jesus has loved – and all, great and small, ordained and lay, young and old, male and female are equally accountable to that one standard. Were the church to shape itself according to the Johannine metaphor, it would be a community in which decisions about power and governance would be made in the light of the radical egalitarian love of the vine image.
– Adapted from the New Interpreters Bible Volume IX, p. 760.
Questions about the Scripture
1. Jesus claims to be the “true vine,” or the genuine source of divine love. What have you experienced in Jesus or his church that would lead you to concur? If Jesus is the true or genuine vine, are their alternative vines of a lesser vintage that people are seeking to connect with? What might be the result of connecting with a lesser vine?
2. Jesus calls his disciples “branches” and exhorts them to “abide” in the vine. What is the result of abiding in the vine according to verse 5? What is the result of disconnecting? How do you stay connected?
3. Jesus describes his disciples in this analogy as “branches.” Branches can grow together and can also grow apart. In Acts 15:39 we read that the ministry team Paul and Barnabas grew apart due to a sharp disagreement regarding who was fit to join them as a colleague in their common ministry. Yet the book of Acts simply reports the separation without assigning blame. Why do you think the author of Acts avoids this judgment? How might this approach be instructive for us in the midst of the possibilities of change in our own denomination?
4. Later (15:17), Jesus defines what he means by the lasting fruit that ‘abiding’ branches will produce when he says, “This is my command: Love each other”. Note that he doesn’t say “post about one another” or “blog about one another”. How would loving one another in spite of differences be a positive witness to the surrounding culture in Jesus’ or in our day?