Signpost for Sunday 3 May, 2015: Acts 8:26-40; Ps 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8.
I like a good vine myself, especially if you can squeeze a syrah or pinot gris out of it. But of course that’s not what Jesus is talking about in this week’s reading. What he is talking about though? A good friend of mine says that this is her favourite passage in the whole New Testament. I told her it wasn’t one of mine and when we talked about it I discovered that I had been worrying about me being a bit of dead wood, as it were.
And I can put that down to a few churches I’ve been in over the years. Just today I found one writer* who says, “The key to the passage is the identification of the branches. There are two groups of branches in the passage: ones that bear fruit (vv. 2, 8), and ones that do not (vv. 2, 6). The branches that bear fruit are obviously Christians.”
Well, I’m sorry but I now think that’s a load of twaddle.
For one thing, the gospel of John was written about AD 95. Neither the author of John’s gospel, nor Jesus himself, ever saw a Christian. They simply didn’t exist. Jesus was born a Jew, raised a Jew, and thought of himself as a Jew. He certainly did not invent a new religion called Christianity. We find him practising the religion he had grown up with and referring often to its traditions, particularly that of the prophets.
For another thing, Jesus was a Galilean Jew. And in this passage we find him in Jerusalem and surrounded by Judeans. Judean jews appear to think differently from him in this gospel. The Galileans – in the person of Jesus – oppose heirarchical power and value the dignity of all human beings. The Judeans support the power of the Temple and foster social division.
So what about the particular verse that always worried me – Verse 6? I don’t think it has anything whatsoever to do with hellfire and damnation any more. I think it’s much more likely to be about people who subscribed to that Judean point of view, and who would have vehemently disgreed with Jesus and couldn’t abide him, let alone abide in him.
Thanks to the very helpful John Petty again for the main thrust of this piece.