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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before May 10, 2015


John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

What I Am Learning:

In chapter 15 Jesus says that he is the vine and that his disciples are the branches. As the branches abide in the vine as sap and nutrients flow back and forth between the two, so is the intimate relationship between Jesus and his disciples. This sap is the love of God.

This metaphor suggests an interactive relationship between the vine and the branches and a sense of primacy. The branches cannot live without the vine, but the vine can live without one branch or even many branches. (We will come back to this!)

In this passage he leaves the metaphor behind. Even his love did not originate with him but flowed from the love of God for all people and all creation.

This text is really Jesus’ last instructions for his disciples before his challenge to the Roman system of domination comes to its inevitable and policy driven conclusion: the crucifixion of a rebel who challenged the system.

He told them that they are to love one another, as he has loved them and as the creator has loved him.

This commandment forms the first of his two commandments in John’s gospel:

  1. Love one another as I have loved you
  2. As the Father has sent me, so I send you

The first is about our call to love people within our disciple community. The second is to continue the work of Jesus to bring healing to humans, human culture and the rest of creation.

Now we need to define “love.”

Love in this passage is not “having affection” for another.

Love in this passage, and many others in the Christian Scriptures, is to “be committed to the well-being of both oneself and the other.”

This is how we talk about love in The Catacomb Churches: love is the willingness risk oneself for one another’s wellbeing so that oneself and others can be more true to our authentic selves.

This is love, but love that is very practical. It seeks the wellbeing of self and others in all aspects of life.

Jesus is asking his disciples to engage in the risky behavior of loving self and neighbor, recognizing that the power to live this way can only happen when we are fed by the sap of God’s love.

This love does not “sap us strength”, lead to burnout, or require us to forget our limits. There are other branches, too. We do not need to do everything, only to bear the fruit that arises from the deep joy of being who God is creating us to be.

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh in their book, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, teach us that there were two kinds of friends in the first century world:

  1. Political Friends: Those who benefit from a dependency relationship of a benefactor. These friends you would praise in public and thank in private.
  2. Kinship-like Friends: Those for whom you are willing to treat like family, risking life and goods to promote their wellbeing. This friendship is not based on dependency but rather are based on a mutual relationship.

In this passage Jesus, at first describing the necessary character of love among his disciples, now calls them kinship-like friends – in other words, he calls them into a mutual relationship with him.

One way to understand the Christian faith is to see one primary goal is for human beings to find their authentic identity, power, ethics and freedom. By calling his disciples kinship-like friends he is calling them to recognize that to be a disciple of Jesus is not to be a forever-dependent Jesus-groupie but to become empowered agents of God’s love in the world.

And if this sounds overwhelming, Jesus told them that they did not choose him. This disciple thing is not some ego driven competition for accomplishments. Rather Jesus has chosen us and has appointed us to bear fruit, that is things necessary for the wellbeing of our selves and others.

So what starts out sounding like some kind of authoritarian image turns out to be an invitation to mutuality and partnership. We are not the source of our own life nor the love that empowers us.

But grounded in this life and love he invites us to become ourselves.

My family was poor, my mother had a chronic illness. There were many things we could not do, but what my father chose to do for me was to practice basketball with me every day from the age of 5.

When I was in 8th grade I was practicing basketball in the summer. One hot day I was practicing in a stuffy gym and I got sick of it. My dad was the custodian and was working around the school. I tried to sneak out by the back door. I opened the door and, of course, he was standing right there working on a light fixture that had broken.

He knew what I was doing. But he did not scold me.

He simply said, “Terry, I have taught you all the basketball I know. Now you have to decide if you want to play or not. But go home today, because you are tired of it. But if you want me to I will pass the ball back to you when you shoot.

What he did for me, Jesus is doing for the disciples and for us.

May we accept his invitation!