(for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015)
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. No 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. 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17, NRSV).
The passage above is a continuation of the parable Jesus began in the previous eight verses. There Jesus described himself as the ‘true vine’ and invited us, as his branches, to ‘abide’. Now he is articulating what this vital, life-giving, fruit-producing, connection looks like. Here Jesus – tantalisingly – offers the secret to abiding, dwelling, and resting in him.
So what is this secret? To abide is to obey. Love is the command.
This love, however, is unique. It needs its own explanation: ‘love one another as I have loved you’.
I am not sure how much of Jesus’ talk of ‘laying down one’s life’ is really understood by the disciples. Perhaps Jesus is merely sowing seed here. One day, looking back through the miracle of the resurrection, they will understand more fully. These seeds will become a harvest.
Until then, however, Jesus is found inviting his disciples into a relationship he describes as friendship. These offered insights into God’s purpose confirm this relationship. Jesus’ teaching of the disciples is an act between friends.
To be certain, this divine plan is a saving act. We do well never to forget, however, that as an act of God’s salvation it is also inherently an act worthy of our imitation. Hear it again: ‘love one another as I have loved you’.
God’s saving love extending into our every relationship.
When Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment he famously gave two: Love God. Love others. Upon these the legal and prophetic writings were, years earlier, hung. Jesus is not making love central. He is simply reminding us how it is, always has been, and always will be.
And this friendly reminder is also a call. A call to be God’s friends. God’s chosen. God’s loving fruit-bearers. Looking back through the resurrection, the disciples must believe that when Jesus pointed to the ‘true vine’, he also pointed to those who would live off its nourishment.
A gardener. A vine. Multiple branches. The ‘vine and branches’ was always a story of God and us.
And as such it is surely one of Jesus’ most comprehensive, far-reaching, and profoundly challenging kingdom parables.