GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The Fifth Sunday of Easter continues our journey through the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. As I pointed out in earlier videos, during the Easter season the church will frequently give us teachings from John's gospel in particular. So last week we looked at Jesus’ good shepherd discourse in the temple in Jerusalem, now we’re looking at a section from his Last Supper discourse, which is unique to the Gospel of John. One of the distinctive aspects of John's gospel is that although it doesn't contain the words of institution of the Eucharist, this my body this my blood, he does give us a lengthy account of other things that Jesus said to the disciples at the Last Supper. It is commonly called the farewell discourse, we can find this material in John 14, 15, 16 and 17. So the church will frequently read from that farewell discourse, or Last Supper discourse, during the Easter season. And, today's reading is taken from that Last Supper discourse and it’s Jesus’ famous analogy of the vine and the branches. So let's read through that together and we’ll try to unpack it and link it with the other readings for today.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. 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. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.
Alright, so let’s stop there; there’s so much going on in the passage, we could do a whole video just on these verses, but let me just highlight a few elements for you here that are important to highlight. Number one, the context, I know I said it already but I’m going to stress it again, Jesus is making this analogy of vine and branches not just any time during his public ministry, he's doing it at the Last Supper. And, the reason that is important, well one reason that is important, is because during the Last Supper, we know from the Synoptics, he actually took a chalice of wine and said, “this is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So in this case, John is using this phrase “little children” to address his audience, and he’s giving them a very basic teaching:
Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
Alright, so notice here, this is a standard example of a kind of Semitic contrast — it’s an antithetical parallelism. That’s what scholars call it. But it just means you set up a contrast: not this, but this. But you don’t mean in an absolute way “not this.” It’s just a way of saying, “This and how much more this.” So he’s saying:
...let us not love in word or speech…
He doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be loving in our words. What he’s saying is that we can’t merely love people through what we say; we also have to add actions to our words. So basically, this is the Johannine equivalent (John’s equivalent) of what we find in the letter of James:
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:17)
It’s not enough just to confess Jesus is Lord with your mouth. You actually have to live according to that confession with your works. So he’s calling the spiritual children in his congregation to remember that they can’t just speak the truth; they have to act the truth. They have to live by the truth. They have to walk in love. And then he goes on to say:
By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:19)
So notice the emphasis here is on keeping the commandments, on our actions, on our works. And this is really important for us to see, because when we look at 1 John 3:18, when he says:
...let us not love in word or speech but in deed…
We tend to associate love primarily with an emotion, like an emotional attraction to someone or an emotional delight in something. “I love this person” or “I love donuts” or something like that. We might take delight in some kind of sensible pleasure. But what John is referring to when he speaks of love is an action. It’s a choice that you make. We don’t just feel
love; we do
is the Greek word that he’s using there. And so the way we express love and the way we abide in God who is love is to keep his commandments.
Now for many of us, when we think about the commandments, we think about the commandments primarily as rules, like rules for life. If you want to get ahead, keep the commandments. If you want to be okay with God, if you want to get right with God, you keep the commandments. And that’s of course true. They are rules, on a certain level. But the rationale for the rules — the deeper meaning behind the rules — is completely oriented toward love.
So the first commandments against blasphemy, idolatry, and breaking the Sabbath are commandments ordered to the love of God. That’s how you love God. You don’t blaspheme Him, you don’t commit idolatry, and you keep the Sabbath holy. And then the second set of commandments are ordered toward love of neighbor. We don’t kill, we don’t steal, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t covet, we don’t bear false witness. So the actual heart of the commandments is to do
love, is to live in love. And that’s what John’s laying out here, that we have to walk in the commandments and love God and love neighbor, because this is what pleases God when we keep His commandments.
Now, that’s of course the Ten Commandments. But Jesus in the Gospel of John is going to add a new commandment He’s going to give to the disciples — to love one another as He has loved us, as He has loved the disciples. Then John goes on to say:
And this is his commandment…
Meaning the Father’s commandment...
...that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. (1 John 3:2)
Alright, pause there. So what is this singular commandment that John is referring to, that Jesus commanded us. Well, this is an allusion to the Gospel of John 13:34-35. If you recall, you go back to the Gospel of John. When Jesus is with the disciples at the Last Supper in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, He pours out His blood. In Luke, He says:
This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20b)
So it makes a new sacred bond with them. But in the Gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t just speak of a new covenant — like He does in the Synoptics — but He speaks rather of a new commandment. So John gives us...he supplements the testimony of the Synoptics. And in John 13:34-35, Jesus to the disciples:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Okay, so if you go back to 1 John, when John is talking about keeping the commandment of Christ, that we love another as He commanded us, that’s an allusion to Jesus’ new commandment at the Last Supper. So the kind of love — this is important — that John is calling his congregation to in this epistle is not just the love of neighbor or the love of God we see in the Ten Commandments. That’s the baseline. Yes, you shouldn’t blaspheme. Yes, you shouldn’t commit adultery. Yes, you shouldn’t steal.
But he’s actually calling his
audience (the readers of this
letter) and then the Church is calling us
during Easter to love as Christ loved, which isn’t just avoiding committing grave evil against someone else, against your neighbor...but actually embracing sacrificial love for the neighbor — laying down our lives, laying down our will for the sake of another, for the sake of the other. That’s loving as Christ commanded us.
And what’s fascinating about this — the last line — John goes on to say:
All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. (1 John 3:24a)
Alright, pause there. This is really, really crucial. Especially in older generation Catholics, probably would have been familiar with the fact — with the teaching of the Catechism
, like the Baltimore Catechism
, something like that — that if we keep the commandments...we have to keep the commandments (the Ten Commandments) in order to remain in the state of grace, that to violate one of the Ten Commandments in a grave way is a mortal sin and would remove us from the state of grace and put us in a state of mortal sin. Most people are familiar with that concept.
But John goes even further. He says that if we keep Jesus’ commandments, we don’t just remain in a state of grace. That’s not the language he uses. What he says is that we abide in Christ and
that Christ abides in us. So that’s the language of mysticism, the language of abiding. It’s a Greek word menō
. It’s the same word Jesus uses in the Gospel of John in chapter 6 when he says:
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:56)
So if you want to have mystical union with Jesus (in John chapter 6), if you want Him to dwell within you and
you want somehow to dwell in Him
, His Mystical Body, you have to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
And I think many Catholics have a pretty good idea of that idea of a sacramental union with Christ. In Holy Communion, we’re united to Christ. He’s united to us. He dwells in us, and we dwell in Him. What we tend not to have as clear a notion of is the mystical union that flows from obedience to the commandments. John is saying here, the only kind of mystical union we have is not just the sacramental union (the Eucharist), it’s also the union of obedience:
All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. (1 John 3:24a)
And the obvious implication too is that if we break one of those commandments, then John will actually go on in chapter 5 to talk about deadly sin. That isn’t just a violation of the rule, it’s the destruction, it’s the violation of a relationship...whereby Christ does not
abide in us if we violate those commandments, if we commit a mortal sin.
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