Updated: Feb 4
Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 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. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, April 29, 2018. This is important as Jesus taught that his disciples must become part of the true vine, required to bear fruit into the world. The symbolism of the vine fits his command to “lift up your stakes and follow me,” as the “cross” that IS oneself is that which raises the vine off the ground and allows the good fruit to come forth.
To grasp the context of this reading, one has to understand that John alone wrote of Jesus teaching the disciples this lesson, which took place during the evening of the Passover Seder meal (commonly called “The Last Supper”). While Matthew and Peter (the writer of Peter’s account of the Gospel is Mark) were present at these lessons given by Jesus, they were busy getting drunk on wine that is part of the Seder ritual (a standard objective into the night). John, on the other hand, was paying attention to what Jesus had to say.
This is how Jesus could make a reference about “going to my Father’s house to prepare a room for you,” only to have Thomas say, “We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:1-5) Thomas was getting drunk, so he was not thinking clearly. So, Thomas would he recall these lessons. John, however, was a child, so not freely welcomed to drink. Therefore, he stayed alert and listened to Jesus speaking, which was recalled in chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17. This reading then focuses on the second phase of Jesus’ Passover teachings, after the group had left the upstairs room (John 14:31).
In this reading, Jesus said, “I am the true vine,” where the Greek word “ampelos” more specifically means “grapevine.” This statement generates mental imagery, especially in those who have never grown grapes as produce, nor possessed a vineyard, where it is easy to mistake a grapevine as being like power lines and telephone lines along the roadside – seeming to go on endlessly. This concept that lacks a farmer’s mentality leads one away from the power of Jesus’ statement.
To say he is the “vine” is similar to Jesus saying he is the gate to the sheepfold. Both are self-contained, with limits, where the parameters or boundaries are of optimum value when those limits are full of purpose: a grapevine is full of grapes; and a sheepfold is full of sheep. This view of a “vine” being one (thus the “true vine,” implying others exist that are false), one can see how a vineyard is many grapevines together. Here is a diagram of one grapevine and a picture of a vineyard of grapevines in winter:
This imagery can then be used to see how the books of the Holy Bible tell of the previous harvests of good fruit, from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to Moses, and from David to the Prophets, with all being from the seed of God and the true vine of His Sons. In this reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples how Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah, was the true vine of God. He was speaking to the flowers that would soon bud into the branches that would produce his good fruit, the product of the Father. By understanding this terminology properly, everything Jesus told his disciples becomes crystal clear metaphor.
John remembered Jesus saying, “[The Father] removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” This is routine maintenance of a grapevine that bears good fruit. As such, at the time Jesus said this Judas Iscariot was absent, having gone to betray Jesus. He was a branch that would never bear any fruit in the name of Jesus Christ. Judas would never submit his ego to God and become Jesus Christ reborn. He was pruned the day Judas hung himself from guilt. Still, the branches that would bear the fruit of Jesus of Nazareth – the Apostles – they would all lose their lives so more Apostles could be produced. They were pruned for the good of the true vine.
Here is a branch that was pruned so the vine could bear more fruit.
When Jesus then said, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you,” the word “katharoi” was used and translated as “cleansed,” and the word “logon” translated as “word.” This states in two segments, “Already you are pure [or clean]” and “by reason of the word that I have spoken to you.” The element of cleanliness loses focus on the metaphor of vineyard cultivation. The root meaning of “katharos” is “purity,” such that the example of grafting a shoot system (scion) to rootstock (the “true vine”), then the shoot will develop buds based on the root system. This means the “word” is the command of the true vine to regenerate cleanly from the rootstock, not from the root system the shoots were pruned, for the purpose of grafting. Thus, this verse told of Jesus informing his disciples their grafts had taken hold and they were then prepared for producing good fruit in the coming new season.
From common stock to disciples attached to the true vine to branches one with the true vine (Apostles).
“Abide in me as I abide in you” is then a statement that the eleven (and John) were no longer separate, but had become one (each individually) with Jesus. While all the disciples had mortal mothers and fathers, such that the DNA of those mortals was what made them reproductions in the likeness of their parents, they had become spiritually grafted to Jesus, whose Spiritual DNA was from the Father. Because of that linkage, the souls of the disciples were one with the soul of the Son of God, such that the Spirit of Jesus Christ was then within each of them.
Jesus then moved beyond this oneness to explain, “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.” A branch (scion) that has been cut off from its root system is incapable of bearing fruit by itself. Once it is grafted onto good rootstock, the flow of growth is then passed onto the attached shoot (branch). The ability to bear fruit comes from the root. Since Jesus is the true vine (i.e.: rootstock for Apostles), his disciples were the newly budding branches, which were budding with the holiness of the Father, through the Son. Therefore, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” where each was grafted individually to the true vine.
It is important to grasp the implication of his next two statements. John wrote that Jesus said, “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.” Rather than a statement of warning or threat, this was a statement of truth and fact. It goes beyond those who were gathered around Jesus, and well beyond the implication of Judas Iscariot being a discarded, as a withered branch.
These statements of Jesus say that the “true vine” is the only path to heaven and eternal life. Not only were the Jews not abiding in Jesus [as Jesus would soon be arrested by the Jews], neither were the Romans – who had their own religion that worshiped pagan gods. This truth says (without saying overtly) that no religion (as religion was known at that time) abode in Jesus, such that Islam (to come later, after Mohammed), Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism (or Daoism), Shintoism, etc., etc., and all forms of pagan worshipers all around the globe (monotheistic or polytheistic) are rootstock of death, not eternal life.
Because a religion is defined as “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power,” there is no “faith” that defines the process of a grapevine. Just as Jesus was the “true vine of the Father,” there was no philosophy held by Jesus that defined what Jesus believed. Jesus taught in parables that require one experience the meaning, rather than learn a set of rules to follow. Because all ‘religions” fall into the error of belief in dogma, rather than being extensions (as reproductions) of the true vine, no “religion” seeks to become one with God. As such, no “religion” abides in Jesus, who IS the true vine of God, the Father – the ONE GOD. Therefore, for Jesus to say, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,” the whole world was, is, and is destined to be scions of false vines – the philosophical thoughts that act as “religion.” The misled and misguided branches of philosophies will have to sever their shoots from their rootstock and seek to be grafted onto the Apostles … in order to become extensions of the oneness of true vine.
This broad stoke view of what Jesus said to his disciples should then be seen as John remembering a lesson for all who will sit and learn the lessons of Jesus Christ. The vast majority of proclaimed Christians around the world today are far from being branches that are producing the fruit of the true vine. The creation of branches within the “family tree” called “Christianity” (a religion), which veer wildly in many different directions, is not indicative of a grapevine producing fruit that carries the seeds of Sainthood. Instead, the millions who call themselves Christians seem to be at war with each other, more than simply being one with God’s love. It is more like the branches from the true vine have been pruned from truth and grafted onto false vine rootstock, making the present state reflect “Christianity” as weakened varieties of Jesus grapes, with none of them capable of producing good fruit.
Does this shape resemble the grapevine T-cross?
In this regard, I recommend the reader here look up the term “Cathars” and get a grasp of the original concept of true Christian. Much of their history has purposefully been destroyed, due to the hatred held by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church against the Cathar people. Their name (as a group of people) was not theirs, as if they chose that name to be new branch of Christians. The name comes from the Greek word seen earlier – “katharoi” – which means “pure.”
Others, those who called themselves Christians, came to know these people (who primarily lived in Southwest France between 1,000 and 1230 A.D.) as those who were “pure” in their devotion to God. They acted as those who were reborn as Jesus Christ, possessing profound knowledge of the word spoken by Jesus. The Roman Catholic Church exercised their first act of genocide to kill the Cathar people, because they would not convert to Roman Catholicism. To justify the first of several crusades known as Inquisitions, the Church called the Cathar people heretics, accusing them of being dualists and Gnostics, whose ways of life were not consistent with those philosophies held dear by the Vatican. In reality (in my opinion), the Cathar people were those who had “already been cleansed by the word that” Jesus had spoken, because they were true vine reproductions of Jesus Christ and knew the deeper meanings of Scripture, unlike typical Catholics.
Look up the Albigensian Crusade (aka Cathar Crusade).
From this awakening, which says true Christians should have more in common with Judaic teachings, where the communal commitment the Cathar people had to one another was similar to that of Jews living separately from Gentiles, the Cathar people were together as a Church of reproductions of Jesus Christ, as those reborn of his Spirit. Jews, on the other hand, represented those branches growing from the vine of Moses, only to have grown wildly along the ground of the Promised Land, losing the “purity” of the “true vine” that Moses offered the Israelites through Law. Western Christians have likewise become wild grapes, through the ground clutter of philosophies that place more emphasis on the equality of inferior vines and branches, rather than seeking to maintain the “cleanliness of the word of Christ.” American Christians today live among multicultural people they barely know, where governments force them to accept principals that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Unlike the Cathars, American Christians readily convert to the will of empires, with few willing to die for the way of the true vine.
This destruction of the true vine model can be seen in the statement of Jesus to his disciples, which said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The promise that “whatever you wish will be done for you” meant – that night in Jerusalem, following Jesus’ last Seder meal – “whatever miracles you need to be able to perform in my name” – as the good fruit of the true vine – “you will have the power of God the Father available to you.” Modern Christians have mutated this statement into a weakened promise that makes Jesus Christ out to be some magic genie in a lamp, where you make a wish for wealth and it will be granted. All wishes today are selfishly based, with no one trying to heal any of the ills of the world, one Gentile convert at a time. All of this failure is due to no one abiding in Jesus Christ and he in one as Jesus Christ, Without that state of being reached first, all wishes can ONLY BE selfish, thus never granted by the One God.
In the last verse of this reading, John wrote, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” The literal Greek makes this easier to understand, in terms of having one’s wish come true. The first segment says, “In this is glorified the Father of me.” That clearly says that “In this” abiding in the true vine, so the true vine becomes one’s Spirit leading one’s soul, then God the Father has made all desires for Oneness with God come true. By saying, “the Father is glorified,” where “edoxasthē” (from “doxazó“) is translated as “is glorified,” the reward of that wanted can only come from the sacrifice of self-ego, in “honor” and “praise” of the One God having entered one’s heart (and soul). When Jesus said, “the Father of me,” the intent is for a disciple to feel the power of the LORD within, such that one has to seek to become a rebirth “of me,” via “the Father.” Therefore, all desires cease to be of selfish motivations, only being wishes to serve the LORD’s needs, where “the Father is glorified” by the obedience of His servant.
The second segment can then be read literally as, “that fruit much you should bear.” This means that a branch extending from the true vine will produce grapes filled with the word of the Lord Christ. The succulence of full grapes from the true vine is then due to the holy water that has coursed through the xylem of that vine. From root system to branch to fruit, everything is filled with the word of God. It becomes a repeating of holy water poured out as in the miracle of Cana, which tasted as the finest wine that is usually served first. By keeping in mind how this “living water” that tasted like fine wine was taken from “purification” jugs, one can then see how the wedding guests had been cleansed by the word Jesus had spoken (to fill the jars with water).
The miracle of the purification water tasting like good fruit goes well beyond the physical. It signifies the fermentation of the soul. This means the disciples will produce more disciples, all who will become Apostles. This miracle is opposed to the norm seen in the various denominations of churches gathering. like guests coming to celebrate a would-be marriage. The norm can only expect a tithing pew sitter, who knows nothing that glorifies the Father, to show success by recruiting another tithing pew sitter, who also will know nothing of the Father.
The reason is a tithing pew sitter is a selfish ego and not one possessed by God’s love, reborn as His Son, Jesus Christ – the true glorification of the Father. Today’s churches can be said by the master of the banquet to be typical, as the best wine of Jesus in his Apostles was served first, until the world was drunk and unable to notice that poor wine is now pouring freely. Today’s Christians mistake their drunken state as being the fine wine from good fruit that glorifies the Father, when so much more is expected.
Finally, the last segment says, “and you shall be disciples of me,” where the glorification of the Father comes from “disciples of Jesus Christ.” This does not mean those who ONLY learn of Jesus Christ as pupils are true disciples. It means those whose hearts are afire with learning the power of Scripture, so their minds are filled with the knowledge of God – the Christ Mind – are those who thirst for truth. The purpose of learning is not to forever claim student status, but to graduate and become the teacher. The teacher (rabbi) was and is Jesus, who enlightens his disciples with a desire to become the Christ Resurrected. This is the call to all who seek the promise of eternal salvation, as that reward demands commitment to learn (deeply) and to apply that “education” freely, so others who are seekers of truth can find it alive in other human beings.
As a Gospel reading during the Easter season, a season when all lessons are calling disciples of Jesus to become the Resurrection of the Christ, we must grasp the concept of the grapevine and the branches that come from the “true vine.” In Scripture is the crucial point in time, when Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) That command needs to be understood in terms of this reading and the dressing of grapevines.
First, the word translated as “wishes” is the Greek “thelei.” The same root Greek word, “theló,” was written here in John’s Gospel, meaning “wish, will, desire, intend, and design.” The intent of the word is therefore not to offer one a “wish” fulfilled, but to ask one if he or she “seeks” God, as their “desire, will, intent, design, or wish.” This means Jesus told his disciples on the evening of the Passover Seder, “whatever your heart desires, it will be fulfilled.” The result may or may not be God and the Christ Mind – thus the wisdom of “be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it.” When Jesus told his disciple to choose their path, he said, “If you desire to become me, then you must sacrifice your ego [deny oneself] and accept my righteous goals.”
Second, when Jesus told his disciples the path to “follow him” required one “take up his cross,” there are two grapevine elements contained in those words. First, the Greek word “aratō” means, “take away,” but it also means “raise” and “lift up.” It implies “hoisting,” as well as “carrying” and “bearing.” This becomes a demand for the strengthening of a grapevine, where years of growth and the crafting of the vines along a cross-wire create a T-cross that is capable of bearing weight. In terms of Scripture being the word spoken by the Christ Mind, like a tendril of a vine, one should always be close to Scripture and ever-reaching to see its deeper meaning. That reflects a design to reach the optimum height, so the shoot strives to be uplifted and amplified in strength. A vine does not reach high due to a philosophy or written plan. It does so naturally, so it can not only produce branches, but also so it can grow to support the fruit produced. In spiritual terms, being “raised” means to go beyond self (“deny self”) and “[be-]come” Jesus Christ “after” him. This “uplifting” is in soul Spirit, where Christ abides in one and one abides in Christ.
In reference to the Roman Catholic Church and their genocide of the Cathar people, one can see how this can be reduced to a level of symbolic focus. The Church reveres the crucifix and loves to nail the body of dead Jesus to dead wood – not a living vine. The original symbol of Christianity was the fish, which is associated with the astrological sign Pisces. Pisces represents self-sacrifice for a Spiritual reward. Therefore, to read Matthew 16:24 as if Jesus were telling his disciples to foresee his crucifixion as his end and the disciple’s time to follow on without him, that avoids the point of self-sacrifice (which may or may not be death by crucifixion) for a higher soul self (as Jesus reborn).
See how dead driftwood has been fashioned into a symbol that screams “dead branch”?
See the difference in imagery when we have become grafted onto a living cross within?
The second element in “take up his cross” is the word that translates as “cross,” which is “stauron.” It has been the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that has taken this Greek word and absorbed its meaning into the dead timbers of a crucifix, as though the word solely means the pain and suffering of Jesus of Nazareth. The reality is “stauros” means “stake in the ground that forms a T.” The stake hold the cross-wire, which symbolizes the inner strength the Holy Spirit offers. A crucifix forms a T, but many other T formations existed long before anyone figured out how to nail human beings to two dead tree trunks hewn and nailed together, in the shape of a cross. People cultivated grapevines into the shape of a T-cross well before the Romans saw that shape was strong enough to bear heavy weights. Thus, Jesus was telling his disciples to form a strong shape, just as he had shown through his strength in supporting his disciples and the Jews who sought him.
In this fifth Sunday in Easter, in the year 2018, this message to become branches of the true vine, as the fruit of the Father’s vineyard, goes along with the reading from Acts, where Philip produced good fruit in the Ethiopian eunuch. He did that be being tested in the wilderness, led by an angel of the Lord, where his strength was proved to bear the weight of Sainthood. It also accompanies the Epistle reading from 1 John, which defines God as love. The fruit of the Father’s true vine is the love of Christ, which is only found in true Saints – the fruit of the true vine.
The Easter call is to heed the word of Jesus and become “clean” and “pure.” One must be washed clean of past sins, in order to be given the reward of eternal salvation. To desire that reward, one must be a living branch of the true vine and produce good fruit. To be a living branch, one must be resurrected as Jesus Christ, so he abides in one, as one abides in him.
The purpose of Jesus dying on a cross was to show his disciples how death is not a permanent state of being, as a soul can never die. The soul will graft itself to another root system and be reborn according to that root-stock. Therefore, the purpose of the seven Sundays in the Easter season is to drive home the point that it is not enough to let Jesus die and be Resurrected, then Ascended. Christians miss the point of the price they too must pay. If they do not follow that same path to salvation, by being reborn as the fruit of Jesus Christ, they will lose as fruitless branches thrown into the fire.