(My “Monday Meditations” are a personal dive into the Gospel text assigned for the coming Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. This week: the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I have also written on this week’s Epistle, 1 John 5:1-6, and you can find it by clicking here.)
Next Sunday’s texts are again completely lacking in explicit reference to the resurrection. I find this astonishing, but will not belabor the point.
Our task is to read the texts in light of the resurrection — as portraits of the life made possible for us by Christ’s rising, conquering death by death.
This week’s Gospel text continues the passage begun last week: the speech in the upper room when Jesus declared that he was the “vine” and called us to “abide” in him.
As in many of his speeches in John it has about as many emphases as it has verses, but today one pair of ideas stands out to me:
The Paradox: Joy and Obedience
Jesus wants us to have genuine, full joy — and counter-culturally, we get this joy by obedience.
In Western culture, we love freedom more than obedience.
- We often assume that anybody talking about obedience is stuck in “works righteousness” (if we come from a perspective of classical Protestant thought)
- Or we assume someone talking of obedience is unenlightened, stuck in guilt or immaturity (if we come from a more psychological predisposition).
We assume that freedom means not being constrained by any external requirements, and we assume that such freedom will lead to joy.
- This happens on the right when it comes to gun rights: constraint on personal liberty is a deep and joy-killing problem.
- This happens not the left when it comes to abortion rights: constraint on personal liberty is a deep and joy-killing problem.
Well just be glad that this passage doesn’t mention guns or abortion any more than it mentions the resurrection. We don’t have to pursue those trains of thought today.
But in an oversimplified way, I think they show how deeply committed we are to freedom in a way that sets obedience on a lower tier among our cultural priories.
The Command to Love as Jesus Loved
The text does, however, mention obedience. It is a very specific obedience, when you look at it. It does not set us up to obey all the laws of Moses, or even every imperative of Jesus.
Jesus speaks of one particular command:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NRSV).
Well that’s bracing. Jesus stepped down from the glory of his role as Second Person of the Trinity and schlepped around with the likes of you and me.
He did not desperately grasp the honor he deserved. He served us.
He healed, and fed, and blessed all those he met. When approached by the disabled, the foreign, the outcast, and the unclean he dealt with them as equals. He looked them in the eye. He spoke to them. He cared for them in their needs.
Laying Down My Life
It all comes down to the explanation Jesus offered as soon as he had introduced the command:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NRSV).
They had just seen this vividly illustrated: Two chapters earlier Jesus had taken off his clothes and washed their feet as a servant would do.
They would soon see it vividly illustrated again: Three chapters later Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, tried, and executed — his life entirely laid down for them.
All of this turns last week’s cheery message of abiding in Jesus in a rather sober direction. Jesus does pep it up again, offering friendship, answered prayer, and a loving community. But we are told that this fulness of joy comes by laying down our lives for others.
Does This Really Work?
Repeated, daily, service of others. That’s Jesus’ way to joy.
In any given instance, I find it seems more likely that joy will come by avoidance.
I am very attached to my own pleasure, to my own moment-by-moment preferences. This is what I mistake for freedom — and it is my life, which Jesus calls me to lay down.
Just as he did.
I used to think that this joy would come in the very present moment. Somehow, because it was obedience offered to Jesus I would be happy in my service. But when my service of others includes scrubbing the bathroom fixtures I find this is not so.
The joy has to come further down the road, in a life transformed so that my self-serving ways are overcome, when more and more the service Christ exemplified becomes my new, or renewed, nature.
At least I hope so.
Meanwhile, obedience to this great law of love comes one complicated day at a time.
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