Compassion and interconnection
In the fourth Gospel Jesus often speaks in theological terms of interconnection. In John 15 he speaks of it as “witness of the Spirit.” He explains it with the simile of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the true vine. The Father is the vine grower (v. 1) who removes the branches that do not bear fruit, and prunes (literally “cleanses,” kathairei) the branches that bear fruit. The verb “ to clean” also appears in the fourth Gospel during the washing of the feet (John 13:10), when Jesus says to his disciples: “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for their feet, but is entirely clean (katharos). And you are clean, though not all of you.” Since he knew who was to betray him, he said “not all of you are clean.”
The pruning of the branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit (v. 2) is an example and an explanation of the baptismal meaning of the washing of the feet, according to the explanation that Jesus gives to Peter in John 13:8: “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” The Father, who is the vine grower, “cleans” the disciples of Jesus by means of his passion, unites them to his passion and death, so that by the gift of his life and the Holy Spirit they may be united to him and to his resurrection. The disciples, cleansed by the word that Jesus announced, have access to a salvific dialogue, participate in the communion of Jesus with the love of the Father, and are invited to abide in him. Otherwise they are like a branch detached from the vine, which serves no purpose.
Jesus then repeats the meaning of the simile of the vine and the branches and adds the fate of those who do not remain “connected” to him: it is to be “thrown away like a branch that withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Whoever does not abide in Jesus is “driven out” and withers like the branches that are not united to the vine. The mention of fire in this simile refers to the judgment that, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus carries out with his passion. The meaning of the simile is as follows: just as the branch that bears fruit is connected to the vine, so connection to the life of Jesus and to the fullness of communion with the love of the Father produces, encourages and promotes life. Every production of life – and every “cleaning” – according to the logic of the simile of the vine and the branches, involves a connection to the life of Jesus.