‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
I have always found verse 3 difficult, and have reflected on it here by bringing a number of ideas and verses together.
First, the ‘already’ is interesting – Jesus is talking to his closest disciples in the hours immediately preceding betrayal, denial, abandonment, arrest and torture – before the cross. Yet already Jesus has accomplished something amongst them.
Secondly, we meet one of John’s favourite words – ‘word’, logos – that description of Jesus from the magnificent opening to the Gospel. ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.’ Yes, ‘word’ means something Jesus has said, but he could also be referring to himself. We are reading the richly- layered Gospel of John today – and it’s probably both.
Bring those two thoughts together and we discover that Jesus has already done something amongst his disciples through his teaching and through his person.
Thirdly, if we ask how John understands the accomplishing of Jesus’ work, our answer will (unsurprisingly) be multi-layered here too. Certainly, Jesus’ accomplishment is on the cross (he cries ‘it is finished!’ – not a despondent ‘it’s all over’, but a triumphant ‘it’s done!’), but his accomplishment is also in his coming into the world at all. ‘The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us,’ (1:14). Now look at that alongside Isaiah 55:11
my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
The God who sent his Son/Word into the world had a purpose for him, and the Son can only return to the Father once that work is triumphantly finished! … done by being amongst us, teaching us, offering a quality of life now (already) as well as that which is bought through the cross.
We receive this by living that abundance out amongst all the children of God (the vine), but also in the world (which God loved so much that his Son came into it and lived out his life and ministry there).
Holy vine-grower and world-lover, accept our thanks for all that you have accomplished for us, for all that you are still accomplishing amongst us, and for the privilege of being part of the vine which grows in your world. Help us to play our fruitful part in your accomplishing work until your word is spoken to all and your Son’s life lived out for all. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Rosalind Selby is the Principal of Northern College in Manchester.