Abide in me – Wednesday, 5th week of Easter – Acts 15:1-6/ John 15:1-8
John 14:31b ends with the words, “rise let us be on our way.” Just before this Jesus has given the apostles his gift of peace. The peace that Jesus promises is not an escape from trouble but rather the courage to face it calmly. As he spoke these words of peace, Jesus and His disciples left the table and slowly made their way toward the Garden of Gethsemane and his passion. It is clear that they did not leave immediately (John 18:1), but here began to.
At some stage, which is not clear to us, Jesus gives them another teaching. Central to this teaching is John 15:5, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” The word abide appears 9 times in verses 1-8, which highlights the focus of this section. This teaching that highlights our Lord’s own relationship with his Father is meant to throw light on what our relationship with him should be. For good measure and for the sake of clarity he thrown in a ‘mashal’ taken from viticulture. A ‘mashal’ is not exactly a parable nor is it an allegory but a semitic form that includes an image and its application to real life.
It would seem odd if I tell you that the hymn that we have grown so fond of, ‘abide with me,’ focuses on ‘activity’; not the increase of it but rather the ceasing of it. The focus of Jesus calling is to be with him; the doing follows naturally. The very word abide sounds sleepy and dull leaving most people thinking of ‘abiding’ as a kind of ‘free ride.’ To abide with the Lord is anything but a free ride. Jesus tells us that abiding involves connectivity; not passive connectivity but one that leads to transformation.
Jesus says he is the true vine and the Father is the vine grower. The first thing the Father does to the son is to break off every branch that bears no fruit. A fruit tree may look beautiful with a thousand leaves on it but that is not the job of a fruit tree, or for that matter a vine. Dead branches need to be broken off and that being done there is no pause in the work at hand. The branches that do bear fruit need to be pruned so that it bears ‘more fruit.’ Now perhaps, you might understand, why I said that abiding is not a free ride. For those of us who abide with him, he asks more from us; more fruit.
Having told us what the father’s relationship is with his son, Jesus now asks the same from us. He is the vine we are the branches that need to abide in him. Our Lord wants to make a point, ‘you can’t do this by yourself.’ So many of us struggle to get our lives fixed, to get our brokenness fixed. Jesus is emphatic, you can’t do this by yourself you have to abide in me, because apart from me you can do nothing.
The vine was a common image used in the Hebrew Bible to speak of Israel as God’s people. John plays masterfully with the symbolism of this image. The vine grower is still God but the vine is not Israel. Now it is Jesus. And the branches, or the New Israel, are those who abide in him. We need to attach ourselves to Jesus’ words, his message, the Gospel, to ensure that we the Church, produce fruits. Apart from that there is nothing we can do (John 15:5). And whatever else we do we may be doing it for the wrong reasons.
Finally, there is the great promise; “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.” This is not the first time we hear this promise in the Gospel of John and it is certainly not to be interpreted as some kind of blank cheque; such as asking to win the first prize in a lottery or to have one’s enemy wiped out, or to be cured of a terminal sickness.
The promise is prefaced by an important and essential condition: we need to be IN Christ and to have our lives totally guided by his “words”, that is, his teaching, his vision of life. And, if we are with him, our prayer inevitably will be to be more deeply rooted in him because he is the Source of all life and all Meaning in life.