Gospel: John 15:9-17

The Love of God

When is love easy? When is it difficult?

What is the cost of love? When we frame love in this question, the subject transcends the feeling. No longer does love remain in the realm of the heart. It becomes a decision of the will. The question implies that we do not truly love unless we are willing to act upon our feelings and live with the consequences. Love may not be love without an inner emotion, but it cannot survive without action. And it cannot grow without testing.

To claim love is easy, to live love is difficult. Yet, in Jesus, we find the example of love perfectly lived out. We also find the power to live love to the fullest.

Popular Translation

Jesus said to his followers:

9 Stay close to me, as the Father loves me and I love you.

10 I have done what the Father told me to do
and I remain close to him.

So, if you do what I tell you to do,
you will stay close to me.

11 I told you all this
so the joy I feel might be yours
and you might be completely happy.

12 Do this, then:
love each other the same way I love you.

13 No one shows greater love
than to die for his friends.

14 If you do what I told you to do,
you are my friends.

15 I won't call you my servants,
because servants don't know what their Master is doing.

I call you my friends,
because I let you know everything

I heard from my Father.

16 You didn't choose me.

I chose you
to go out and do things that will last.

And my Father will give you,
whatever you ask him in my name.

17 So, love each other, just like I told you to do.

These passages continue Jesus' speech to his followers at the Last Supper. Just as Jesus stressed intimacy in the vine and branches analogy last week, here Jesus focused upon the means of intimacy: love. To live out God's love meant care for others. When one truly loved God, he or she was raised to the status of God's friend.

Literal Translation

9 Just as the Father loved me and I loved you, stay in my love.

10 If you keep my commands, you will stay in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's command and I stay in him love.

11 I have spoken these things to you that my joy might be in you,
and your joy might be filled.

12 This is my command:
love each other, just as I loved you.

15:9-10 How does one rest in Christ's love? Keep his commands. Obedience is the key to "remaining" in Christ's love (as well as building up a community based upon charity).

15:11 "your joy might be filled" means complete happiness.

15:12 "just as I loved you" is a reference to Jesus' self-sacrifice on the cross. The evangelist wrote this phrase from his time perspective not Jesus'. (In the gospel, Jesus spoke these words before his death, but, since the verb "loved" is in the past tense, Jesus spoke them as if his "act of love" already happened.)

Even in their barest form, we modern Christian readers immediately latch onto these passages. As long as we strive to love God, we will return love and fill us with joy. God will empower us to love others, as well. Awash in the glow of love's overwhelming power, it seems we can possess a happy disposition for the rest of life. Love will sustain us.

Of course, Jesus did not mean these passages for his follower's comfort. Jesus used the passages to challenge his disciples. In the culture of Jesus' time, status and reputation stood above accomplishment. It did not matter what someone did. What others said about him did matter. If someone did engage in activity, his efforts were only meant for self-glorification. Through the eyes of many Jews, God blessed his faithful with economic abundance, natural ability, and impeccable reputation. The poor, the lame, and the sinner were to be shamed and avoided.

This description might be over-simplified and almost a caricature, but it does point out an immature spirituality that existed in the time of Jesus, as well as today. The words of Jesus challenged the notions of blessing some followers had. Jesus never said, "Blessed are the rich and self-important who stand over you with spiritual advice." He did say, "Love one another." Love did not mean a warm, comforting feeling. It meant to help others in need. In other words, Jesus turned the conventional wisdom upside down. Action ("love" as serving those in need) stood above status and reputation. In fact, such action was the key to a growing relationship with God.

13 Greater than this love no one has,
that someone might lay down his life on behalf of his friends.

14 You are my friends,
if you do what I command you (to do).

15 No longer do I call you servants
because a servant does not know what his Master does.

But, I call you friends
because everything I heard from my Father
I made known to you.

16 You yourself did not choose me.

I myself chose you and lay (a mission) upon you
so you might go and bear fruit and your fruit might remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name,
he will give you.

17 These things I command you (to do): love each other.

15:13 "that someone might lay down his life" "Life" is literally "soul." In John's gospel, "soul" is that force that animates the body. Hence, "soul" is the equivalent of "life."

15:14 "You are my friends" Greek does make a distinction between "philos" (a brotherly love that forms a friendship" and "agape" (an unselfish love, giving without condition, a duty based upon principle). However, John equated "friendship" (philos) and "unconditional love" (agape). To be the friend of Christ, one must give without reservation.

15:15 "No longer do I call you servants." Actually the word is "slave" but the Greek could denote an indentured servitude, a type of "slavery" for a limited time span. While God does not treat us as property, we are his, since we are his creatures. Yet, like the indentured servant who will be freed after a limited time, God wished to free us, to make us friends who would freely return his love and spread that love to others.

"a servant does not know what his Master does." Lack of knowledge in this sense does not ignorance but a lack of intimacy. In other words, a servant does not understand the plans of the Master, simply because they are not friends. True friends "know" each other. They know what each other will do. And they know why.

"because everything I heard from my Father, I made known to you." Friendship with Christ was based upon revelation. Believers knew the Father (his intent and actions), because Christ revealed it to them. And through that revelation, they also knew Christ.

15:16 "I myself chose you and lay (a mission) upon you" The verb "to lay upon" is the same as "to lay down" in 15:13. To bear fruit that endures, a Christian must be willing to die a little for others, just as Christ died for all so all might live. The notion of death giving life can also be found in 15:2 (the Father "pruning" the branches so they will bear fruit).

In the term "friend," Jesus played off the notion of reputation as the highest social value. More than a title of relationship in the time of Jesus, one could use the title "friend" as a bragging point, a tool to raise one's social status. This was more than name dropping. The "friend" of the governor or king shared in the power of the ruler, even vicariously. Remember, it did not matter what someone knew, it mattered who they knew. The "friend" of the rich and powerful exerted influence over his peers.

What would be greater than to be the "friend" of God's Son? This was even better than "friend of Caesar." But, here, Jesus listed the standard for divine friendship: self-giving to the point of death. Only Jesus accomplished such a feat completely. And he did it for his followers. He expected his followers to die a little for others. Humility and charity, of course, negated the selfish quest for "bragging rights." The true "friend" of God's Son rejected any notion of braggadocio.

In fact, Jesus gave the status of "friend" to his followers as a gift in two ways. First, Jesus made his followers his friends through his revelation. Just as the true friend "knew his brother," Jesus allowed his followers to "know" him and his Father through his teaching, his ministry, and his life among them. (Indeed, the presence of the Risen Christ in John's community helped solidify fellowship; in Christ, they "knew" each other.) The Christian way was based upon intimacy of divine friendship, not distant enslavement. The Christian loved God more than he or she feared the divine.

Second, Jesus "chose" his "friends." They did not choose him. This notion of divine "election" has a long history in theology, which we do not need to investigate at the moment. What we should notice, however, is the subject matter of the election. Jesus chose his followers for a mission: to "lay down" their lives as he did, so their self-giving might produce lasting "fruit." Hence, the kernel of Christian spirituality, self-giving ("laying down" life), roots the Christian community, fellowship based upon service (fruit that will last). Both of these notions were based upon love. When Christians truly loved others, even to the point of death, they became "friends" of Jesus and the Father. Like the "friends of the king," their requests would be looked upon graciously.

Catechism Theme: God's Providence (CCC 306-308)

Jesus chose his followers to carry out God's plan of salvation. He chooses us today to do the same. By allowing us to participate, he gives us a personal stake in the coming Kingdom. "God ...enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors...they then fully become "God's fellow workers" and co-workers for his kingdom." (CCC 307) Love is the best way to become his "co-worker," since it reveals the reason he made the cosmos to others and affirms our friendship with the Creator.

When have you felt the love of God? When have you past that love onto others? How did your efforts effect those you loved?

Love changes everything it touches. It denies our "bragging rights." Yet, it enhances our reputation. It denies the power of our leader positions. But it raises us up as true leaders. It might take away the advantage of our personal initiative. It, however, connects us in ways unimaginable.

Divine love transcends mere emotion. It becomes the lifeline to God. And it forms the basis of real community. It is inexplicable in theory, yet easily seen in action.

Wherever God loves, he acts. Wherever he acts, he is. HE IS with us. Simply because he loves us.

Take a few moments to thank God for his love and the love of those around you. Plan this week to return that love. And plan to reach out to one stranger this week with God's love.