Fifth Sunday of Easter | John 15:1-8
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts related to the Sunday reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Some things really do get lost in translation.
John gave us this remarkable image-filled passage—Jesus talking to his followers, a long last discourse before he is silenced in arrest and crucifixion—and we miss some of the good bits simply because we cannot hear the words.
Take that first verse. More or less literally, we get this: I myself am the vine, the true one, and the father of me is the george. Oh, sorry, that is to say γεωργός, transliterated georgios. The word means ‘farmer’, and from it we get the modern name of George.
Maybe it does not change our understanding much, but knowing that God is called a farmer, that the word and the work are not limited to tending grapevines, helps somehow. It broadens our imagination. There is something cheerful about imagining God in baggy pants and knee high rubber boots, galumphing around tending to sheep and goats and olive trees.
Let’s try another one. In most English translations, verse two speaks of God the farmer, good old George, ‘pruning’ a grapevine. Then verse three, in the English, starts talking about being ‘clean’. Ok, we make the logical connection, a pruned vine and a clean heart, but the words John uses are not the ones we hear.
In verse two God prunes, from καθαίρει, kathairo. In verse three, we are clean, καθαροί, katharoi. Hear the echo? Not ‘prune’ and ‘clean’, which may be synonyms at a stretch. John uses kathairo and katharoi, words from the same root, that sound alike, and that have a little different meaning.
Ask anyone who has had a catheter. It leaves a different impression, and not just on the outside.
One more word: μένω, meno. It is the verb that means ‘to remain’ (we might be seeing the remnant of it in the ‘main’ part of our own English word.) It could also be translated as ‘to abide’ or ‘to stay’.
That is what the whole passage is about. Abiding. Remaining. Being. What comes out of our lives depends on where we choose to abide, on the inside.
We can choose to remain where we are, dwelling on past injury and failures, maintaining our self doubts and fears, focused on ourselves, pitching our tents in the midst of a wasteland of negative thinking. We can dwell on the broken notions that we are too fat, too skinny, worthless, deserving of abuse. We can remain self centered, self serving, self worshipping, abide in our own pettiness, become huge fish in the tiny ponds of our minds.
Or we can get clean. Prune our thinking. Open our minds. Catharsis. That is an act of genuine faith: opening our minds to the possibility of something greater.
Real power is not something we hold. Power is what flows through us, passing on to something else, to someone else. The power flows from the somewhere that faith calls God. Our task is simple—be.
This is where Christianity lost its Zen.
The Church, sometimes more focused on the doctrine of forgiveness than on real living, often forgets that religion created most of the guilt in the first place. The circle of failure-forgiveness-more failure-and-guilt can be baffling to people looking into Christianity from the outside and seeing only an endless loop, a package of guilt and absolution, sprinkled with an aversion to science and wrapped in a roster of rules.
What we have made of Christianity sometimes does not resemble what we read in John’s Gospel. The first role of the Church is simple. To abide. To live. To be. To open our minds to the possibilities of God.
We’re not the end. We’re the path. Let the Spirit flow.