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By their fruits…

Red Yellow and Green Fruits

Sunday 28th April
Year B The Fifth Sunday of Easter: White


  • Psalm 22:24-30
  • [Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4 or Genesis 22:1-18]
  • Acts 8:26-40
  • 1 John 4:7-21
  • John 15:1-8

(The reading from Acts should be used as either the first or second reading.)


The gospel reading this Sunday finds Jesus urging his disciples to abide in him. He does this very thoroughly. The word ‘abide’ is used eight times in this short passage! The Greek word translated as abide is menó, and some versions of the bible choose to translate this as ‘remain’ instead. However, whilst the word remain underlines the permanency implied, it doesn’t quite capture the sharing of spirit and energy that being attached to a vine and its life force also infers.

The passage is challenging. Healthy branches are pruned (the Greek word Kathairó may also be translated as ‘cleansed by purging’) to make them grow even more vigorously and produce even more fruit. However, the branches that are not bearing fruit, which is taken as a sign that although they are nominally part of the vine they are not partaking in its life-giving power, are gathered and thrown into the fire.

The root of this passage can be found in the Old Testament. Here, the grapevine is used many times as a metaphor for Israel, with God as the vine grower who tends his people carefully, but destroys them when they are unfaithful.

It is perhaps worth remembering that John’s gospel was written sometime around 80-90CE or even a little later during a time of conflict between followers of Jesus and the Jewish authorities. What had been an internal dispute about Jesus the Jew between Jews had become a more serious division, which according to events recorded in John’s gospel, led to the expulsion of Christians from the synagogue (e.g. John 9.22). Whether emphasis on the divinity of Jesus was the source or result of this division is debated.

The compilers of the gospel (chapters 15 and 16 are thought to have been added into the gospel later to underline key themes) would have told the story of Jesus from their own contemporary perspective. In the passage Jesus says ‘I am the true vine…’. He also talks about divine provenance and providence and implores his followers to bear fruit and keep his new commandments. In doing so he aligns himself with the figure and will of God.

The Johannine community had broken away from the existing religion. Here they were reinterpreting traditional understandings of God and underlining their claim to be the true inheritors of God’s vineyard. Of course, the new community was also under threat and so stressing the advantages of belonging was key to its survival.


I wonder how we read the passage from our contemporary perspectives?

One of the prevailing metaphors of our time is the economy and it is tempting perhaps even unconsciously to automatically understand ‘fruit’ in terms of numerical output bringing financial reward.

However, doing so without prayerful and careful contemplation may well lead to unholy guilt, frustration and burnout. It is also in danger of missing an essential step in the process. Paul clearly states:

‘…  the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ (Gal 5.22-23)

It is from this fruit that everything else flows and grows.

To Ponder

Chapter seven of Matthew’s gospel records a series of pithy sayings by Jesus, one of which takes up a similar theme. The section ends with the words, ‘Thus by their fruits you shall know them.’ (Matthew 7.20)

What does the world see of our fruits?

What impression do we give of the vine and the vine grower?