In the midst of John's gospel we read these words of Jesus (John 15:9-17):
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
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.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. 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.
I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
In the history of Christianity, one could suggest such a gospel teaching as noted above helps us understand when the Church was about following Jesus and when it got off track following itself.
I read this text from John 15 and marvel at its beauty, a wonderful example of John's Gospel waxing eloquent. As I work with pastors and church leaders and recall my own upbringing and pastoral ministry within congregations, I also realize how this commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" really lays bare the memories of church meetings where "passive aggressive behavior" was more the watch word. Heavens, I remember coming home from denominational meetings years ago, and it would take me a few days to feel sufficiently recovered from some of the agendas vying for attention while the official agenda gamely tried to keep us about the ministry and mission of the gathered people.
Such experiences remind me to be in the midst of the people, yet to try as best as I can, to be the one calling us back to the gentler voice of Jesus, whose mercy is far greater, whose justice far fairer, and whose patience certainly outlasts my--and our--own. To love one another is hard enough. To love one another as Christ loves us....that's a tall order!
"You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last...." As I hear these words, again with the fullness of John's gospel, celebrating the abundance of Christ, the Bread of Life, the Vine making branches out of our otherwise bramble, I also remember that in the midst of the church's day to day struggle with bills and anxieties, tempest in a teapot moments and sometimes mystifying agility in making mole hills seem far more like mountains, Jesus did call each of us, gently by our name as a shepherd knows his sheep.
John's gospel is often considered ethereal, up in the heavens in its lofty language rather than earthy and plainspoken like the other three Gospels. Yet I find myself back in John's pages as I grow deeper in my faith, finding certain treasure in its languid passages and turns of phrase. While John's gospel has a negative history of interpretation justifying anti-Semitic practices (i.e. I still cringe even with the NRSV's unexplained, without caveat use of the phrase "the Jews"), I take great stock in the words of Jesus as told herein, a reminder that in the midst of the world and its complexities, Jesus became flesh, dwelled among us and taught us (if we'd only listen) to the just, abundant and lively way of the Gospel.