Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of last weeks reading. You may recall that last week we read about Jesus being the vine and us the branches, and how we receive our nourishment from the vine. You may remember Jesus saying we must abide in him. In today’s reading this gets expanded a bit.
Today we read that we abide in Jesus’ love, by keeping or obeying his commandments. Then he gives his disciples his commandment. “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.
When reading the Gospel of John, the meaning of verses is often in two contexts. There is the story that is being told, the narrative of Jesus and his ministry, but there is also the story of the community. The words someone hears can have a very different meaning if they are heard in a different context.
Imagine if you will, hearing these words of Jesus in each of those contexts. The first meaning that jumps out at me is the sacrificial action Jesus is about to suffer. But if we hear it as the Johannine community, it might well be about the sacrifices members of the community will have to make in the future as the community faces increasing hostility and persecution. There is also a third context we should consider, the context of our own lives in the present.
There is one verse in today’s passage that really caught my attention, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”
1967 was a turning point in my life. My family and I moved back to the United States after spending three years living in Holland. Things were very different from what I remembered when I left for Holland in 1964. And things were even more different than they had been in Holland. It was an exciting and sometimes frustrating time.
In Holland we lived in a small town. Back in the United States we lived in a subdivision. In Holland I could walk or ride my bike to most places I wanted to go and if I couldn’t get there that way, I could take a bus or train. Holland has excellent public transportation and riding bikes is much safer than it is here because they have designated bike paths. Back here I had to get someone to drive me where I wanted to go.
And sports were different also. In America, young boys play baseball and football and basketball. In Holland young boys play soccer.
I remember when we came back home; the friends I made in my neighborhood would often have a baseball game going. Usually the two best players would be the team captains. They would take turns choosing who would be on their team. People were picked according to their athletic ability. How far one could hit the ball, how fast one could run, and whether or not one could catch were important considerations.
Because I have never been a great athlete, I was never picked early. But, every once in a while, I was not picked last. That was such a good feeling, knowing someone thought I was not the worst athlete in the group.
Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences.
There was a movie in the early 1990’s that depicted this well. In the movie, “The Sandlot”, Scotty Smalls was the new kid in a neighborhood. He wanted to fit in, to make new friends. There were a group of boys who played baseball every day. He went to the sandlot to try and be on the team, but he wasn’t a very good baseball player. When he tried to catch a fly ball, it just bounced off his gloves and the rest of the team just laughed at him, except for the leader of the team, Benny “the jet” Rodriguez. Benny took Scotty under his wing and taught him what he needed to know to play baseball.
But it is not just sports where people are picked. It could be a special project at work or maybe someone called you and offered you a job without you applying. It seems it usually feels good when we are chosen for something.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his disciples that they were chosen, that they had not chosen Jesus, but Jesus had chosen them. I believe the same is true for each of us, we do not choose Jesus, but Jesus chooses us. Our part is to respond to Jesus’ call.
But, Jesus has different criteria for choosing us than our friends did for a game. Jesus does not choose us for our athletic ability. I don’t think Jesus chooses us because we are experts in theology, or experts in money management, or because we are good at taking care of Church buildings either. I think it goes way beyond that. I think Jesus chooses us because Jesus knows our hearts and our potential. Jesus knows us better than we know each other or ourselves, and I think Jesus sees in us things others, including ourselves, cannot see. Perhaps Benny Rodriguez in the “Sandlot” saw something in Scotty the same way Jesus sees something in us.
But then the question comes to mind. What did Jesus choose us for? The Gospel tells us he chose us to go and bear fruit. He tells us he is giving us these commands that we may love one another. Although he is talking to his disciples in the Gospel, I imagine his message if for all of God’s children, that we are all to love one another, as Jesus loves us.
There is more than one Greek word that translates as love. They mean different kinds of love. The Greek word used for love in this passage is agape. Agape describes a special kind of love. It is not a romantic love, it does not refer to a close friendship or brotherly love, nor does it mean charity.
Agape is a self sacrificing love, a love that is of and comes from God. God loves us, all of us, all of God’s children, because it is God’s nature to love. God’s love for us is most clearly visible at the cross, where Jesus gave up his life for his friends, for all of humankind, God’s children. Jesus did not give up his life because we deserved his love, in fact the person receiving agape love never does anything to merit God’s love.
In the same way, we are called to love others sacrificially, even those we do not like or care for. In Luke 10, we are given an example of self-sacrifice in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Jews hated the Samaritans, yet in Jesus’ parable a Samaritan helped a Jew in need, and even paid for him to receive care. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling like romantic love or friendship is, but rather on a calling from God to put others welfare in front of our own. This type of love does not come easily or naturally to human beings. We receive this love from God, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to give agape love to others.
“You did not choose me but I chose you.”
For the disciples, these words may have served as a reminder that even though things were about to go bad, even though Jesus was about to be crucified, Jesus had choses them for a divine purpose larger than they imagined.
For the Johannine community, those words may have comforted them through the times to come, and the opposition they would face, knowing that they had been chosen by Jesus.
For us in todays society, where self-sufficiency and freedom of choice seem so important, perhaps they will call us back, reminding us that Jesus chose us, gathered us into community, and is sending us out into the world. These words should also comfort us as they did the Johannine community. You weren’t chosen because of something you are good at, you were chosen because you are you. You weren’t chosen because you could help someone win a game, you were chosen because Jesus loves you.
These words should also comfort us as they did the Disciples, reminding us that Jesus chose us for a divine purpose, one we may not be aware of yet, but one which God will reveal to us when the time is right.
You did not choose Jesus, Jesus chose you. Jesus gave his life for you. Jesus loves you, all the time. Jesus is always with you to comfort and guide you. Jesus calls you his friend. There is no better friend to have.
Let us pray:
Great and loving God, your will for us in Jesus is the peace which the world cannot give:
Your abiding gift is the advocate he promised. Calm all troubled hearts, dispel every fear.
Keep us in steadfast love and faithful to your Word, that we may always be your dwelling place.
Grant this through Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, who lives with you now and always in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever.
Amen and Amen.
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