These episodes recount the disciples’ last supper with Jesus. They have left everything to follow him, and it is no small thing. That is why they are in turmoil, because Jesus has told them that he will suffer and die. All their world turned inside out. They are in shock.
It may be that you recognise this experience. You have trusted someone, something, some idea and you were disappointed.
Does Jesus do the same thing to his followers? They’ve put their hope in him, and now?
We’ll see that he doesn’t. At this moment Jesus is very caring. He does not give them empty words of hope like, “You’ll always have me in your heart”, nor stoic words like “Stiff upper lip!”, but he takes the situation seriously. He teaches them within the reality they suffer, their anguish. Even here, Jesus wants to teach them that God has good purposes for those who are attentive. In addition, he explains with concrete images that can have an impact in the midst of their sadness.
Summarising last week, the theme was the house of God. “In my father’s house there are many places to live.” (John 14.2) The theme of the house of God is very important in the history of Israel, precisely because God wants to make it clear that we can be in his presence and realise it. The focus was on the temple but, in many accounts, and at the end of the prophecy of Isaiah we read
This is what the Lord says:
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting-place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?’
declares the Lord.. (Isaiah 66.1-2)
We can’t give this much time, but until now the way to be in the presence of God without a doubt was to be in the temple. But not only the temple there was always the hope of a bigger reality. And Jesus draws our attention to this reality in his proclamation of the gospel that “The Kingdom of God is near.” That is Jesus’ promise to his disciples. Jesus does not abandon them but by going and returning he can expand the experience of the disciples to be in the reality of God.
This week we have another very important image in the history of Israel: the vine. It was an image of God’s people, cultivated and cared for by him. Now, Jesus, as with the theme of the house of God, wants to expand the experience of his disciples on what it means to be cultivated and cared for by God.
He hopes for the same for us. He wants us to trust him and he will not disappoint us.
What kind of cultivation and care are we talking about? The image of a plant leads us to think of a living connection.
Verses 7-11 express what this means and there are three things that draw our attention:
- Obedience, that is, allowing the other party to ask things from me.
- Honour, that is, recognition of the value of the other party.
- Love, that is, the characteristic that directs the relationship
These things are important in any relationship.
Think of an important relationship. Notice how these three things infuse the relationship. Requests, recognitions and love are the way to develop any relationship.
Notice that it goes both ways. Even with God. We can ask for things from God, verse 7 and we bear fruit, our recognition.
But the impulse to listen to the other’s requests or accept the glory depends on love. Jesus explains more about what it means to love in verses 12-13
Love leads you to give your life for your friends
The phrase does not only mean dying, although Jesus will take it there. The word translated as life in Greek focuses on the concept of our being. The meaning of love is to be ready to give way, allow the good of others to come first. It is more than a sensation. It is what we have sung in the last weeks following Philippians 2.5-11: not considering equality something to be grasped, rather humility. It is what we see in Jesus’ life for us.
It is a fairly simple concept to understand and exceptionally difficult to do. But it is what obedience and honor allow. And together they represent the reality of a living relationship. Jesus tells his disciples that his departure does not stop this living relationship, rather it will improve it.
But if it is so difficult, how does not remain a dream?
The image of a plant also emphasises the connection with the source of its existence, more than an animal. The branches have to stay connected to live. The truth is that everything around us, including us, depends on something else to be alive. That’s why I eat.
The issue is about where we look for the source of life. We can confuse some good sources with the true source. Food, friendship, fame, goods, family and so on can replace the real source, or they may seem sufficient. But it does not nurture love in the way we have thought about.
It’s interesting how we try to maintain human relationships. They can be very parasitic because they depend on that we receive something from the other. Why do relationships break at the time of crisis? Because it was maintained by the resources of the two persons and they weren’t sufficient. We say, “I can not stand it anymore,” or “Me needs are not being met.” We demand too much of the relationship with our finite resources and it breaks.
That is why Jesus leads us to think about him. He wants to be the source. And the reason is his love. He took the nature of a servant and became obedient to death. It also resonates with the ideas of Philippians 2.
His love was powerful enough to overcome death. Jesus did not do it by his own effort. He was completely connected with his Father who resurrected him. We need this source for our life and in this moment of sadness, he offers it to his disciples. His death is going to open a reality longed for by the people of Israel, all the way to us. Jesus does not disappoint us and wants to join us with our source of life, that is, God himself and by his death and resurrection he can establish and maintain it.
Where do we start? By meditating on the image of the vine and the branches. Take seriously that Jesus gives us this image because it is powerful to influence us.
What would it mean to be connected to Jesus like this? How could it grow me?
How do I understand that Jesus lay down his life for me?
In this context the need to ask for God’s help makes sense again, verses 7 and 16. What I ask from God is this source of power to make love a reality. If he was the source for Jesus, he can also be my source.
Change the way you think about your relationships. They are not bilateral. They are trilateral. Allow this reality to influence how you participate in relationships. The death of Jesus does not leave us alone, but it opens up a much bigger reality. A reality where I have the ability to behave in a more lively and eternal way than ever before.