(A Lection Reflection on John 15:9-13)
At first glance, this week’s lection looks less like the reassuring Jesus of the Farewell Discourse, and more like the “right strawy epistle” of James. Lots of “ifs” here: IF you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; IF you do what I command you, you are my friends. Hmm.
I think, though, that we are both less on the hook, and more on the hook, than it appears at first glance.
We start out with an opening “transitive property” statement: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” How has the Father loved Jesus? Unconditionally, completely, eternally — all the words that you could use for the love of God the Father for God the Son. Then Jesus says that he has loved the disciples (and by extension, all of us) in the same way. Wow — that’s a pretty strong statement! And just to emphasize how much that should mean to us, he adds “Abide in that. Live into it. Make your home in my love.” That’s one commandment we are glad to keep, for sure.
But then … what’s this? A conditional? “IF you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Oh my — the only way to keep living in the warm house of Jesus’s love is to keep his commandments. Without chasing the question of “are you run out of the house, or do you move yourself out” (which is a good question to ask), there’s still the image of the disciples looking at each other and whispering “do you remember all the things he told us to do? Yeah, me neither. I think we’re toast.”
But then, Jesus brings them back to one of the fundamentals: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Big sighs of relief all around. Oh, THAT? Loving each other? Sure, Jesus, watch me hug my buddy here. We’re bestest friends, you know? So, are we good with the abiding-in-your-love thing?
In my mind’s eye, I see Jesus pausing, looking around with a slight smile — ‘cause he really does love these people. Then he looks serious, and leans in, and quietly drops the bomb:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Silence. Inner thoughts, reflections, questions. They begin to look around, at each other, and each is saying to himself, “We’ve been through a lot together — there’s no guys I’m closer to — but lay down my life for him? Or him? Or him? I dunno, Jesus — that’s pretty tough.”
Within a few hours, they would all get to see someone do exactly that: lay down his life for his friends. And they would have the rest of their lives to do three things: live in his love, think about what it meant to lay down your life, and teach others how to do it.
See, I think we hear either the warm fuzzy of “I love you; wrap yourself in that” or the distant parent of “I’ll love you if you’re obedient.” And here’s what we miss:
I have shown agape love to you, just as God the Father has shown agape love to me. You can count on the fact that I will always agape love you. The next step is for you to agape love each other, in the same way. That’s the fundamental thing, the fundamental act, that I want you to spend the rest of your life doing. And how are you to do that one, primary, foundational thing that I want you to do? By laying aside your life for each other.
That’s it. Pretty basic Lection Reflection, really. Just three simple truths:
— I love you with a love you can make a home in.
— You are to love each other the same way.
— To do that, spend the rest of your days laying down your life.
Got it. Now, to do it.