Reflecting on today's gospel from John. 15. One part of a verse was irreconcilable,
Apart from me you can do nothing
On the one hand it sounds like a good rule for life and certainly we should try to live our lives constantly in union with Jesus, but as it is written it seems factually incorrect. After all, are there not lots of people who go through their whole lives apart from Jesus and they do lots of things. The people looting and destroying their own neighborhood in Batimore did lots apart from Jesus.
Once more one has to zoom out and see this part of a verse in a larger context: first the whole verse then the whole of John's gospel.
The whole sentence reads:
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing
Jesus is not taking about doing just anything. He is talking about doing one specific thing, bearing fruit. And the word for nothing ouden means literally "not one."
A more precise translation of the phrase might be, "apart from me you can make not even one", one piece of fruit. Can we do lots apart from him? Oh yes, we can do lots and lots of things but we cannot bear fruit, not even a single piece.
You may well ask, Are you saying that non-Christian can't do anything good? Not at all. Here is where we have to zoom out even further and look at it in the context of John's whole gospel.
Jesus say "apart from me you can do nothing." He is talking specifically to his disciples.
Remember that in John's gospel there are two kind of life simple biological life (bios) we get from mom and dad, and eternal life (Zoe) we get from Christ. At our baptism our bios is buried and we rise with a new life. "You have become a new creation."
To use the image from today's gospel we are grafted onto the vine that is Jesus Christ. Once grafted onto the vine, all of our true nourishment comes from him. "In you we live and move and have our being." Once grafted onto the vine of Jesus Christ we have no life apart from him. If we chop ourselves off from the vine, we die. It's that simple. This is why he commands us "remain in me."
Our ability to bear fruit comes directly from him. Just as each of the branches draws its nourishment through the vine, our very life from moment to movement comes through him. The sooner we accept this reality the better off we are. Everything else is self-deception, delusional thinking.
If you are a baptized Christian, you were transformed into a new kind of being. You can't undo it. There is no going back. You can walk through the day drawing your strength from Christ or you can let yourself starve. You can bear fruit or just do stuff all day long. The choice belongs to each of us. Today is a gorgeous day here in Richmond. But whatever the weather is where you are, let your self walk through this day drawing your strength from Christ and see what kind of fruit it bears.