15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
15:11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15:15 I 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.
15:16 You 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.
15:17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
A Question or Two:
- Why does Jesus keep talking about “remaining” (translated as “abiding”)?
- What could it mean to “remaining in his love?”
Some Longer Reflections:
Jesus says that the disciples are no longer to be called “slaves” (a better translation of the Greek), but are now and forever to be called “friends.” The Greek word is φίλοι, and that implies that all partners are equals, that all are colleagues. Aristotle wrote that a friend is “another self.”
Think about what it means for the character who has been identified as the Word who was with God in the beginning, who is (in fact) God, to say to ordinary people: you are my equal, my colleague, my other self.
All this reminds me of something my grandmother told me back when I was a child. We were talking about what it meant to be kind. My grandmother, who spoke Swedish until she came to the States and learned English as an adult. My grandmother said that she thought you were kind if you treated other people as being “the same kind as you.” I don’t even care if her etymology is in any sense correct. What she understood about people (and the English language) has changed the way I think about both.
What if Jesus is actually saying, “I no longer call you slaves. I acknowledge that you are the same kind as I am.”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….
“You are the same kind I am.”
That is worth a long, slow think.
Jesus also talks about joy. Notice that.
Jesus is joyful, and he wants his joy to fill his disciples.
So much of general Christian religious thought focuses on how much human sin disgusts God. It’s not just Jonathan Edwards and his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, though that is a classic example. In such interpreters, even when they focus on grace, the message boils down to something like, “You should be blown away by the amazing gift of being loved even though you are despicable. After all, grace is unmerited, remember?” In extreme forms of such thought, God is angry and shudders at the thought of having contact with the depth of human sinfulness, and humans are to be destroyed by the sheer power of this goodness.
You can take such thoughts and build them (carefully) into workable theologies, I suppose.
But Jesus in this scene takes an entirely different approach. “I have said these things to you,” he says, “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” There is no anger here, only joy. Jesus is joyful, and he wants his followers to be joyful, as well. And not only that. He wants their joy to be complete. The Greek means that their joy will be filled full to the brim.
It also implies that their joy will be fulfilled.
This last notion has implications. “Fulfilled” is a word used when the discussion is about prophecy, hope, and expectation. But that means that, somehow, human joy contains within it a promise of Divine fulfillment. Joy is prophetic. Joy makes promises. Joy fosters hope.
Stop and think about that for a moment.
Joy is not simple happiness. Joy is deeper, more overwhelming, more life-giving. Joy is the first time your child calls you Mama. Joy is the time your aged father holds your hand and tells you how proud he is to be your father. Joy is looking your partner square in the eye and hearing a promise of love, support, and commitment. Joy is discovering the depths of sexual intimacy with someone who loves you deeply, slowly, and warmly, someone with whom you are forever safe and free.
C.S. Lewis described joy this way:
“Joy—that sharp, wonderful Stab of Longing—has a lithe, muscular lightness to it. It’s deft. It produces longing that weighs heavy on the heart, but it does so with precision and coordination…It dashes in with the agility of a hummingbird claiming its nectar from the flower, and then zips away. It pricks, then vanishes, leaving a wake of mystery and longing behind it.”
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that joy can be “as poignant as grief.”
And perhaps these two old friends have opened up a way that joy can be a promise and a prophecy: joy is tied to longing and to aching, and as such creates a need for fulfillment, for completion.
“I have said these things to you,” Jesus says, “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Maybe one important task this week is to stop and reflect on what it would mean to build Christian theology on Jesus’ words about the sharing of joy, and not on our humiliation in the face of God’s forgiveness. What if joy is grace, and grace is a deep, abiding kindness?