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A Retake On John 15:1-8 - Zig Before You Zag

A Retake On John 15:1-8
April 26, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Commentary:

Keeping in mind my schema of zigging (taking the liturgico-sacramental interpretation), and zagging (taking the abstract, fundamentalist interpretation), here is how I interpret the above verses.

Firstly, these words occur at the institution of the sacrament of the Altar. Though it remains unspoken in these chapters, it is the “elephant” in the room. What we hear in chapters 13 through 17 are the Lord’s teachings about the Eucharist. Much more could be said about this, but that is for another day.

These words of the Lord at first appear to be baptismal in nature. They may well be, for we do enter into Jesus by the door of baptism; and thereafter “abide” in him: literally and not just notionally. He is our place of residence. He is the Holy Place and Firmament of Heaven (Psalm 150:1).

The “clean” of V. 3 may also be baptismal but I don’t think so. It is used here in the same sense as in V.2 where it means to be cleaned, or pruned of unproductive growth, so that all nutrition given goes to make what is lush, more lush. Gleaming with God’s glory.

But I take it as Eucharistic. When Jesus calls himself the Vine, he is speaking of his blood which will be poured out for the “life of the world.” (John 6:51). Blood he will give his Beloved Bride to drink in the cup of the Eucharist. Further the Lord says, “Whoever abides in me and I in him …” As we abide in him (literally) by baptism; even so he abides in us by the Sacrament, as we introduce his Living Flesh into our dying flesh at the rail.

And what is the fruit here referenced? If one zags the interpretation is this: Stay close to Jesus, read your Bible, and live a godly life. And the more you read your Bible, and remain dedicated to the Lord, you will continue to become a better person. All true enough. But it’s like calling the Mona Lisa a picture of a woman. The fruit the Lord speaks of here is more than good behavior.

It is the weight of God!

And what of Vss. 7&8 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

If one zags the lesson is: dedicate yourself to living the Christian life and God will answer your every prayer. Religious seduction if ever there was!

But if we zig, and hear the Lord’s words sacramentally, the reference would be to the Eucharist, and the prayer she has always prayed in connection with it.
The church’s chief Eucharistic prayer has always been that God would transform (not transubstantiation) the bread and wine we offer, into the body and blood of Christ, so that we might obtain by it the remission of sins, Life and salvation.

Secondarily, the occasion of the Eucharist has always been the occasion that the church offers her purest, deepest, highest and holiest worship, praise, honor, glory and thanksgiving to her God! To join in this is to rightly praise God; to absent oneself in favor of notional private praise of God is to deceive oneself.

Thirdly, it is in Holy Communion that the Bride has always offered her petitions to her Beloved Bridegroom for all that she needs and wants. For the good estate of the church, the world, and for those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. In the inspired words of Thomas Cranmer, “for all sorts and conditions of men.”

These are a few of the things I see if we zig, rather than zag.