Scripture: John 15: 1-6; 10-12
Jesus calls himself the “true vine” in this passage. But did the Gospel writer John put words into Jesus’ mouth. Because, we can read it as an example of John’s antagonism to the Jewish leadership of his day.
Significance of the vine, true or otherwise
These two short pieces from John Chapter 15, seem at odds with each other. The ending is the famous ‘new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples at his final meal with them (the occasion when he washed their feet). It is very pastoral. We rightly view this as a key commandment of the Christian faith – that we should love one another. Love, of course, with the agape meaning of mutual respect.
But how do we square this with the first section? Jesus first calls himself the “true vine”. We ordinary Christians are his branches. Sounds great.
The ‘true vine’ is polemical
I’ve said many times that John’s Gospel is controversial because of its anti-Jewish flavour. This is not the ‘cuddly-Jesus’ comment it appears to be. Isaiah viewed both the land and the people of Israel as God’s vineyard, bearing sweet and abundant fruit. So here we have Jesus allegedly claiming to be the true vine – that is, Israel is not the true vine.
What’s more, God, the vine-grower, will prune out all the unfruitful branches of the vine. Notice in the picture that the vines in the vineyard have been newly pruned. Because drastic pruning is necessary each year to get the best crop. So also in John’s spiritual vineyard. We can read this, if we wish, as God pruning out all unfaithful people so that we, the faithful ones, will give God the best harvest. Even that is rather arrogant, assuming, as it does, that we are the fruitful branches.
But I don’t think that’s what the text implies. My impression is that what is intended is that God will prune away all those Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. John wrote his Gospel at a time when early Christians were no longer welcome in Jewish synagogues. He presumably directed his anger at the Jewish religious leadership. But the effect and consequence has been two thousand years of anti-Semitism, which alas, continues to this day. Did Jesus say those words? I think it very unlikely.