Progressive reflections on the lectionary #14

John 15:1-8 I heard it on the grapevine

Progressive reflections on the lectionary #14

One theory about the four gospels is that they represent different (early) Christian communities. John’s gospel, then, would have been written for a particular Christian group, probably around about 70 years, ish, after Jesus’ death. The way it is written and the stories it contains, are, according to this way of thinking, designed to speak directly to the people of the ‘John community’.

According to the same way of thinking, the book (in this case ‘John’s gospel’) was written in the context of the writer’s first priority, which was the pastoral care of the community, so each passage that we look at can be thought of as being directed at a particular need or concern within the community itself.

Part of the context of the John community would likely have been a growing sense of disconnection between the Jesus movement and the Judaism from which it had sprung. As Judaism found itself under increasing pressure and threat after the destruction of the second temple, there was a lean towards legalism, phariseeism, and self preservation. As a result the Jesus movement found itself increasingly on the outside of its parent tradition.

Indeed, according to this way of thinking, it would sometimes have been for this reason that separate Christian communities, like the John community, were formed - because Jesus followers felt excluded from mainstream Judaism. They had become the subject of regular prayers against heresy, and now felt themselves to be marginalised.

This explanation would certainly offer a reason for the gospel’s apparent anti-Jewish slant, and a reason for the inclusion of this particular passage. In the preceding chapters the writer sets up the Jews as hostile towards Jesus, giving a reason for the John community necessarily becoming separate from Judaism. Now he develops the theme of how to keep going when times are hard - encouraging them to understand that it is Jesus who is the ‘true vine’, and that they should abide in him. A reassurance to those who feel cut off from the Jewish (parent) tradition.

The writer seeks to motivate and encourage his community, he wants them to stick with the programme despite the pain of dislocation, and despite the claims of ‘heresy’ levelled at them. “You will only bear fruit if you stick with Jesus,” he warns, advises, or remonstrates.

This way of thinking offers an approach to John’s gospel that says it was written for a particular people, at a particular time, in a particular context. From that perspective, this particular passage seeks to offer comfort and encouragement to a community troubled by difficulties and doubts. It has a pastoral emphasis. On that basis it can, of course, continue to offer encouragement to those who feel dislocated or discouraged, whilst also offering a case study of the way in which the gospel writers constructed their narratives with the perceived or felt needs of their own communities in mind.

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Image: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Kreta (GR), Margarites, Wohnhaus, Weinranken -- 2023 -- 8668” / CC BY-SA 4.0For print products: Dietmar Rabich / /


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