Sixth Sunday of Easter

Abiding in Jesus’ love is the sustaining force that will make possible their witness

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May 5, 2024

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Commentary on John 15:9-17

The Gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter extends the image of Jesus as the vine and the disciples as the branches. And like any good discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus can’t let the metaphor go after only one take. While it may be a bit frustrating for us readers and interpreters as Jesus seems to go on and on, it’s worth it to stick with Jesus. One hermeneutical key to the Johannine discourses is to look for the subtle shift Jesus makes that invites a deeper engagement with the image/metaphor.

For example, in the “Bread of Life” Discourse, Jesus modifies “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) to “I am bread that came down from heaven” (6:41). These deeper levels of engagement are not simply further explanation of the metaphor or symbol but reflect narratively the grace upon grace that is the Word made flesh. Like the signs Jesus performs which are abundant, all over-the-top in their meaning and results, the symbolic levels of the imagery reflect the abundant love Jesus has for believers. Remember how this Gospel ends—words cannot contain grace upon grace (21:25).

Considering 15:1–17 as a discourse similar to the “Bread of Life” and “Good Shepherd” Discourses is a helpful strategy toward appreciating the nuances Jesus makes as he unpacks the meanings of this metaphor for the disciples. The second section of what we shall call the “Vine and Branches” Discourse has Jesus moving the image to a new stage of depth and meaning. Whereas Jesus has previously invited the disciples to abide in him as he does in them (15:4, 7), he now asks them to abide in his love. The vine and branches imagery is yet one more depiction of the love shared between God and Jesus, into which the disciples are assured.

The disciples will desperately need this love in the face of the world’s hatred to come (15:18), and they will experience the same rejection as Jesus when they testify to his love in the world. Jesus predicts that they will be put out of their synagogues and be killed (16:2). Abiding in Jesus’ love is the sustaining force that will make possible their witness. Without it, they will most certainly wither and die.

John 15:12 is a restatement of 13:34–35. Love is the hallmark of discipleship in the Gospel of John, and the disciples are to mirror the love that God has for Jesus, that Jesus has for his Father, and that Jesus has for his disciples. This love, however, is not an abstract commandment but has already been embodied in Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

As Jesus experienced abundant love when Mary anointed his feet, he then takes that love forward into Jerusalem (12:12–19), into the hour (13:1), and is able to wash the feet of his betrayer, Judas, and his denier, Peter. Jesus takes Mary’s love with him to the garden, his arrest, trial, the cross, and into the darkness of his tomb.

By loving one another, the disciples will carry their love forward in their own loss and grief ahead. It is the love that they have for each other that will get them through not only Jesus’ absence but what is to come once they leave the house, cross the Kidron Valley, and enter the garden. The community of the disciples is commanded to do works of love, but loving one another makes possible loving the world God loves. God cannot love the world without the love they take into the world. And they will do this embodied love together, just as Jesus has embodied limitless love.

This is what it looks like to lay down one’s life for one’s friends: to be present for each other in times of threat and crisis.1 Note that Jesus does not say, “Lay down your life for me” but “for your friends.” To be Jesus’ friend is to be loved by him and then to love as Jesus has loved. “Jesus’ words about laying down his life articulate the very real choices that he makes for his own life and that guide his relationships in the world.”2

The disciples will have to make real choices for each other in the hours to come and in the days following Jesus’ resurrection. The love shown to one another is the love Jesus has shown as he has accompanied his disciples. He loved them to the end, to the full extent of love (13:1). In their love for one another, they hold on to and keep experiencing Jesus’ love for them. What a friend we have in Jesus.


  1. Gail O’Day, “Jesus as Friend in the Gospel of John,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 58,  no. 2 (2004): 150.
  2. O’Day, 151.
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Festival of Homiletics 2024

May 13-16 | Pittsburgh (or digitally from anywhere)

The 2024 Festival of Homiletics is an invitation to lean into a little self-love. Hear from some of the voices of our time, including Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Neichelle Guidry, Brian McLaren, and Angela Dienhart Hancock, and more! Experience inspiring worship along with time for reflection, renewal, and remembering – to recall once again the why for what we do.