Easter Daily Gospel Reflection - 4 April 2013
“This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.
“If the world hates you, know that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, I have chosen you out of the world, and you don’t belong to the world. This is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘Servants aren’t greater than their master.’ If the world harassed me, it will harass you too. If it kept my word, it will also keep yours. The world will do all these things to you on account of my name, because it doesn’t know the one who sent me.
“If I hadn’t come and spoken to the people of this world, they wouldn’t be sinners. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me also hates the Father. If I hadn’t done works among them that no one else had done, they wouldn’t be sinners. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. This fulfills the word written in their Law, They hated me without a reason.
“When the Companion [Advocate] comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me. You will testify too, because you have been with me from the beginning.
“What does you think Jesus is saying to you in this passage” the group leader asked us. We went around the room and everyone was giving their feelings about the passage and how they felt G_d was speaking to them about it.
When it was my turn, I said, “You really don’t want my opinion.”
“Sure we do,” said the group leader.
“Okay. But remember, you asked for it,” I replied.
I took a deep breath and said, “Jesus is not talking to us. We aren’t even in his mind. We’re not even on the radar.”
Too often, when people read stories in the Bible, they start by asking the wrong questions. For example, when reading this passage today, some people will ask something like, “Are you following Jesus in such a way that the world hates you?” However, that’s not the proper place to start. Once some basic questions are answered, we can get to asking those types of questions. But, and this is really important, a passage can’t mean what it was never intended to mean. This means that the context of a passage will guide us to the application of that passage, if one exists.
On of the very first questions one has to ask when coming to a story like this one is to ask, “To whom is Jesus speaking?” That’s the “who” question. As we’ve been seeing, Jesus is speaking to his disciples at a very solemn time. This conversation takes place at the shared Passover meal right before his arrest (that’s the “where” question). Even though Jesus mentions other people in his prayer, his primary concern is for those people present with him at the moment.
With that established, we need to now turn our attention to “the world.” What “world” is Jesus referring to? I know that may seem like a silly question for some of us, but there are actually different “worlds” mentioned in the Bible. For example, there are the systems of the world, there is the “world” of the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), there’s the “world” of the Jews, there’s all of creation, etc. We use this term in similar ways even now. “My world is falling apart,” doesn’t mean that the literal planet is crumbling. It’s, yep, you guessed it, poetic imagery that refers to the deep impact of something happening in one’s life. So, back to the question: What “world” is Jesus referring to?
The third paragraph tells us that Jesus is referring to the world of first century Judaism. It was (primarily) to them that he spoke. It was to them that he did his “works.” It was their Law (the Law of Moses) from which he quoted. They “hated” Jesus. And, as the book of Acts makes clear, they caused most of the grief for the people who followed The Way of Jesus.
Now, let me clarify this: I’m not saying all Jews throughout all time are being referred to here. Nor am I saying that Jesus is meaning all Jews in first century Judaism (he’s having dinner with some of them!). I’m just saying that the context makes it clear that Jesus is referring to those people who were opposed to him and his followers living at that time in first century Judaism. That’s the “world” to which Jesus is referring. And Jesus makes that clear elsewhere.
And it was to that world that his first followers belonged at one time. Since they were now his “friends” and following The Way (or, would be soon enough), it was to that world that they confronted. But it was just them. The Advocate would be with them; would testify on Jesus’ behalf and theirs, too.
But it didn’t stop there. They went on to confront the “world” of the Roman empire.
So, what can we now make of this passage?
I think the passage can speak to us if we keep the context in mind. Certainly, Jesus wants all of the people who follow The Way to love like he loves. And that love, he explains, is a sacrificial love; of putting the needs of other ahead of our own. And that can lead to sacrificing our own lives for the Other. In other words, The Way of Jesus is defined by that type of Love. If we aren’t loving like that (and none of us can do that perfectly), we need to examine our lives (the “pruning” we looked at yesterday).
Secondly, The Way of Jesus should cause us to not only Love others as Jesus loved, but to speak truth to power. In the immediate context, we saw this as speaking to religious power. I know that there are some of us who don’t like the idea of speaking “against” our churches, but that’s one of the things we are called to do. That is part of the “world” in which we live.
But, as we saw with the disciples, this expands to the other sectors of our “world.” These may include our jobs, our communities, or our nation. I once had a friend ask me what The Way of Jesus would look like in his field (he’s in nutrition). At the time, I didn’t have a good response. But now, I think I have one. In all of the sectors of our “worlds,” we can see how they impact the marginalized - the environment, the poor, the helpless, the voiceless, etc. In his situation, one could look at how the supplements are produced. Are the produced on a large scale? What are those companies environmental impact like? What about the raw elements used? Are they harvested from somewhere? What do the wages of the workers there compare to the cost of living? What are the benefits like? What are the working conditions?
Those are the same questions we could ask about our own “worlds.” But we should know that when we start poking around, we probably won’t be welcomed with open arms! This isn’t about “witnessing for Jesus” in the Evangelical sense. It’s about taking care of the least of our brothers and sisters.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC