Artist: Jodi Simmons
Medium: Tempera on panel.
Date: c. 2009
Location: Private Collection.
John 15:1-27 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Jesus begins with the Gospel's final "I am" saying. The earlier sayings had focused on Jesus as the life-giver and had included an invitation to come to him and to believe in him. Now, however, Jesus is speaking to those who have already come to him, and so his charge is that they remain in him. The earlier theme of life is now developed in terms of intimate union with Jesus, a sharing in his own life. Thus, this is a fitting conclusion to the "I am" sayings. The image is not a parable, since it is not a story, but rather an extended metaphor. The main point of the image is clear enough: the disciple's very life depends on the intimate union of believers with Jesus. As branches, believers either bear fruit and are pruned to bear more fruit, or do not bear fruit and are thrown away and burned.
Jodi Simmons is a contemporary American icon painter, currently working from a studio in Massachusetts. In the eyes of traditional Eastern Orthodox icon artists, Jodi crosses over canonical boundaries in her handling of sacred subjects. Why, for example, is Christ shown so often without a beard? And what are all those geometric patterns, crisscrossing her panels? For Jodi, he is “the blueprint of all creation,” the fixed point in the circle of eternity from which lines radiate out in all directions, creating new shapes and forms, wherever they are intersected. More of her innovative work can be seen at http://sacredartpilgrim.com/collection/view/68 .