Fifth Sunday of Easter

by Crossings

Fruitless disciples
John 15:1-8
Fifth Sunday of Easter
analysis by Ed Schroeder

Here is a Crossings matrix for John 15:1-8, the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter in the Revised Common Lectionary. April 27, 1997 is this year’s calendar date for the text. Appended at the end of the text study a note on “fearing God.” 
Peace and Joy! Ed


  1. In the text the Greek verb MENEIN appears 7 times. As intransitive verb (as all these 7 instances are) it is: to remain, abide, stay; live, dwell; last, endure, continue. That is patently the golden thread to the text.
  2. The adjective “clean” and the verb “to prune” have the same Greek root: KATHAROS and KATHAIREIN.
  3. The term translated “vinedresser” is the normal Greek word for a farmer: GEORGOS.

John 15:1-8

STAGE 1. Initial Diagnosis: Fruitless disciples. What such absent fruit is can be seen in the items listed in Stage 6 below. Fundamental to fruitlessness is branches seeking to bear fruit by themselves (4b). And that signals a deeper malady, namely,…

STAGE 2. Advanced Diagnosis: Disconnected. “Apart from Christ.” Not remaining in the vine. (“Apart from me you can do nothing” is the favored passage in the Lutheran Confessions for arguing the necessity of faith to make any work a genuinely good work. I.e., what makes any work a good work is the Christ-connection of the work-er.)

STAGE 3. Final Diagnosis: The grim consequences of “not remaining,” (6) thrown away, withered, gathered and burned. Grimmer still is that when Christians opt not to remain they forfeit an inheritance that once was already theirs.

STAGE 4. Initial (New) Prognosis: The true vine cleanses the branches. “You are clean by the word I have spoken to you.” There is scant signal of Christ’s cross and resurrection here in the pericope. It is difficult to image Christ’s death and resurrection with the metaphor of the vine and branches. However, in John’s vocabulary the word “true” is a signal. What makes Jesus the “true” vine (as also the “true” light and “true” bread) is the same grounding which makes him the “good” shepherd, i.e., that he lays down his life to get life to his disciples. That enfleshed Word that cleanses bad branches is “the Word made (mortal) flesh.” The remaining verses of chapter 15, esp. v.13, give ample evidence that Jesus’ passion and death are the grounding for his being the “true” vine.

STAGE 5. Advanced Prognosis: Remaining in him , the absolute must (v.4 &5). Here the vine/branches image is vivid. No connection, no life-juices flowing.

STAGE 6. Final Prognosis: (7 & 8) Some components in the witness of disciples “remaining in Christ”: 1) asking for anything and it will be done; 2) actually glorifying the Father by a) bearing fruit and b) becoming Christ’s disciple.

Update– In the text study for Transfiguration Sunday (Sabb. #50, sent out on Feb 1, 1997) I took a swipe at a recently published catechism text by Open Book, the publishing house of the Lutheran Church of Australia. Open Book chose the word “honour” throughout to render Luther’s German “fuerchten” (fear) in the explanations of the 10 commandments. The literary exchange between Aussie book editor John Pfitzner and myself now approaches 30 pages. In making my case that fear is fear and honour is honour, and that Luther meant the former, I found these two poignant paragraphs in Werner Elert’s ethics textbook.

Elert says:

When God addresses “the human” after his first misdeed, Adam secludes himself, seeking cover in the bushes. “I heard your voice in the garden,” he explains, “and I was afraid. For I am naked and so I hid myself.” He does what all his descendents also do. No one wants to be seen uncovered–not even when he’s a decent person–neither one’s body, nor, especially, one’s interior soul. Everyone, when danger threatens, goes into hiding, for there is no one who does not have something to cover up. None of us wants the other person to know our ultimate secrets. By the end of the first day of world history “the human” has made three epoch-making discoveries. First is the presence of fear within himself, second a conscience operating within himself, and thirdly, that there is a connection between his fear and his conscience.This three-fold discovery he makes by self-analysis, which makes sense, for he has now taken over the management of his own fate, so he constantly has to think about himself. Theoretically he could have answered differently. He might have confessed that he feared God. But that would have meant submitting to God’s evaluation. And to do that would have taken a certain amount of trust, a certain fiducia, which is precisely what he no longer had. So all he can do is tell God about the sorry state of his interior soul. He admits that he is fearful, but he neglects saying that he fears God. Since he no longer has trust in God, he is also bereft of any fear of God. All he has is fear period!


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