John 15:1-8

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah in which the vineyard is clearly the nation of Israel; it is God's people. They are not bearing fruit, but wild grapes. What they bore was chaos. It was injustice rather than what God had in mind.

In the series of sayings recorded in John 15, Jesus builds on the memory of Isaiah's parable, which was widely internalized in the community of Israel in Jesus' day and in the community of the Jews in the time of John. The true vine is a metaphor for that which will bear good fruit. Jesus' parable begins with, "I am the true vine and my father is the vine dresser." Thus, it is grounded in the relationship between Jesus and the Father. And in this sense, Jesus becomes the vineyard. He is the focus of the vineyard that God has planted. The community of those who bear fruit is the community of Jesus; it's the community that is tied to him.

The branches that don't bear fruit are cut off. The branches that do bear fruit are pruned clean. This word in Greek has a double meaning. I think the best way to deal with translation when there are two meanings, both of which are picked up and developed, is to translate both of the meanings. So the word cathirao in Greek means both "to prune"and "to clean." They are made clean; that is, they are made pure and righteous by being pruned.

What is the experience to which this refers? Well, it is in part the experience of the community in the aftermath of the war in which there was such painful pruning. Many people were killed. It is also about the spiritual discipline that happens when someone who has borne fruit needs now to learn new things and to have some things cut off, some traditions cut away in order to be prepared for the new situation in which they will live.So the word of Jesus has cleansed them. It has pruned them. It has enabled them to distinguish between that which is essential and that which can be left behind.

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