Life As Members of God’s Household
Sixth Easter of Easter 6 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
John 15: 9 — 17
Let us recall that the first part of John 15 is about the relationship between the Vine (Jesus) and the branches (His followers) and His Teaching ― to “remain in me and I in you”.
This final discourse of Jesus in His teaching life points us towards His goal of union and unity:
• union through Him, with God the Father
• union through Him, with one another.
The delivery of this discourse is intense and sometimes difficult to understand unless we see it in its cultural setting. Our notes are longer than usual, in the hope that the richness of the text may become easier to explore and “open up” for meditation. Readers requiring less material can easily pass over the more detailed sections.
In our present reading, John 15: 9 — 17, Jesus continues to expand the understanding His disciples need to have of what it means to be a member of God’s own household. He really strives hard to highlight this idea.
We say household because St. John’s use of “remain” or “abide” is deeply spiritual language. Both words mean to dwell within and continuously operate from within Him by His divine influence and power.
St. John’s concept of the Household of God is a major theme, very unobtrusively interwoven throughout his Gospel account. He calls upon every means he can which might help us build an understanding of what it means to belong to the Household of God ― as family. We all know how members of a human family can despise one another and be, literally, constantly at war against one another. Not so in the Household of God: those admitted are “friends”, and remain so ― united in their pursuit of carrying out the holy will of God.
Some Reflections on the Text
In the earlier part of this chapter, Jesus has instructed the disciples to remain in full union with Him as the branches remain united with the vine. In this reading He passes from the vine metaphor to abiding or remaining in His love. To remain means more than to stay. It means to rest and be truly who you are and grow in His likeness. i.e. This is what it means to be restored in God’s image.
Verses 9 — 10
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as
I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
As Jesus expands His theme He begins a number of exciting parallels between the Father and Him, and between Himself and His disciples. In a sense the first of these contains all that unfolds to verse 17. And so we could ponder His words for the rest of eternity:
“As the Father loves me, so I love you. Remain in my love.”
The scholars remind us this text, talking of shared love, emphasises not equality, but resemblance. Jesus’ love for us reflects perfectly the Father’s love for Him. “Take care therefore“, says our Lord “to remain in the enjoyment of that love of mine for you”. For those who would like to delve a little in the deeper aspects of this, we offer the following.
The technicality we mentioned above emphasising resemblance rather
than equality does nothing to diminish the power of this statement
from the Lord. On the contrary, He implies that love is the same (in its
effect) both in God and in us; for the love of all created things is derived
from the love in the Blessed Trinity. The love of the Father and the Son
is reproduced in the love of the Son to mankind, and particularly to His
people. All holy love must be essentially the same.
(MacRory, Sadler, Newman and Nida)
We notice Jesus doesn’t say to His disciples, “Begin now to remain in my love” or “start remaining ….. “. He makes it very clear that His disciples are already bathed in His love for them.
In this writing by St John, there is no difference between the plural “commandments” and the singular “commandment”. (Or “commands” and “command”.) Our Lord makes it quite clear; obedience to His commands is the means whereby the disciples remain in His love. To put it another way:
“If you obey my commands I will continue to love you, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and so He continues to love me”.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy
may be complete.
It is a very lofty calling to remain in His love and is no small challenge. But the result is worth the effort and cost, for He assures His listeners that His joy will be in them all and remain there in all its fullness. This is really another couplet in which He is saying, “I have great joy in loving the Father and being loved by Him. This joy of mine will rest complete within you”. The word “complete” is often translated as “full” and is a metaphor taken from a vessel into which water is poured to the brim. It means full and complete in every way. We note that His joy is associated with obedience to His commandments.
It may be helpful for a moment to reflect on the literal translation of verse 11 which opens with, “I have told you these things ….. “. What “things” is our Lord referring to? His Hebrew listeners had no trouble holding in their minds (since they were used to an oral learning culture) the whole of what He had been explaining concerning their union with Him as branches of the true vine ― as well as the last two verses prescribing the keeping of His commandments as the way in which they were to remain, or abide in His love for them.
“These things” form a single unit of His instruction, and our translation, helpfully, expresses it in the singular: “I have told you this .…. .”
Our Lord’s listeners heard it straight from the Master’s lips: “What I
have spoken to you, I have spoken not for obedience only, but for
joy in that obedience, that we may rejoice together. In this
way, my joy in beholding your obedience may be passed to you,
and may be in you to the full, no matter what outward tribulations
or afflictions you are called upon to endure. (Sadler)
Let’s listen to St Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest writers and teachers of Christian antiquity (North Africa, 4th Century).
“What is the joy of Christ in us, except that He deigns to rejoice on
behalf of us? And what is our joy; which He saith must be made full,
but to have fellowship with Him“.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
At this point we are going to take time out to recall that in John 13: 34 our Lord said something very similar:”
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I
have loved you, so you also should love one another.
His listeners were well aware that they were to love one another as the Torah (the Law) commanded in Leviticus 19: 18.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow
countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.
But now, Jesus requires that they love one another in the same way that He loves them. Jesus is not superceding the Torah: He is declaring how all that the Law required is to be put into practice in and through Him. This is the new element which, if obeyed, will enable His disciples to love one another continuously, and therefore to bear the fruit He has been talking about; and in the process, enable them also to share in His joy. Obedience and joy are thus two sides of the one coin, as it were, the coin representing the Holy Will of God.
Verses 13 and 14
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Our Lord expresses to His disciples the depth and greatness of His love for them. It cannot be greater, since He was prepared to die for them.
Christian love has as its model nothing less than the example of the of the Good Shepherd Himself. It is the love of Jesus which enables His disciples to love in like manner. Time and time again, we will come up against a seemingly impossible demand of our Lord. The problem is with us and the unbiblical way we tend to read Sacred Scripture. Our error is in thinking that what He commands is unrealistic i.e. impossible.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote this:
“Let us remember that our Lord never enjoins the impossible.
He enjoins the perfect.”
As we said above, “it is the love of Jesus which enables His disciples to love as He loves and to remain in His love.”
The meaning of all this might be paraphrased as:
“I am not asking you to love me just in return for my loving you. I want you to demonstrate your love by keeping my commandment ― love one another as I love you.”
Thus the one test of friendship to our Lord is not words, nor just
lively feelings, but obedience. (Sadler)
Jesus takes His disciples to the next stage of His teaching. He assures them by His manner and words that they do in fact, love one another as He loves them. It is now time for them to hear Him disclose something never before heard quite like this:
I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what
his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told
you everything I have heard from my Father.
We arrive now at a new focus point. People who love in this way are his “friends”. This is a special moment in Jesus’ final time alone with His chosen disciples. He has opened their minds, made known His plans, acquainted them with the whole design of His coming, His life, death, resurrection and ascension. Having given them the clearest proof of friendship, He now gives them a title that is very special to Him: “my friends”.
In Genesis 18: 17 and Exodus 33: 11 both Abraham and Moses were addressed by God as friends. Here in our text, Jesus extends this privilege to His Apostles, insofar as they were capable of understanding Him (John 16: 12). But let’s look again at those words:
“I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”
This is for a purpose, and not just the honour! Again we divert just a moment to something both momentous and important.
If ever men were lifted above the state of servants, and taken into
the confidence of God, it was the men who heard this discourse,
and especially the outpouring of the Lord’s whole soul into the ear
of His Father with which it concludes (chapter 17). He treated them
as friends, and He called them friends; but this did not prevent
them ever after, calling themselves, not His friends, but His slaves.
St. Paul begins his greatest epistle with calling himself a slave of
Jesus, Christ (Rom. 1: 1). So also St. James and St. Peter. The two
are perfectly compatible. They were His friends because He had
made known to them the counsels and plans of God. They were
His slaves, because they were the purchase of His Blood. In fact,
they were more than friends, they were His brethren, sons of God,
having received and retained, and had been filled with, the Spirit
of adoption, and yet their whole lives were spent in never-ceasing
labour and endurance in the service of Himself and of His Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and
appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that
whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
Jesus implies in another couplet, “Just as the Father chose me to go and bear fruit, so I have chosen you to do likewise. It is now your turn to go forth and bear fruit; fruit that is sound and of permanent value”. Jesus has returned to His symbol of the vine. It is the disciples, not the trunk, who are now to bear fruit. The trunk will provide the vital sap, but the grapes will grow from the new branches. For this to continue, the disciples must pray fervently, confident that it is the Father’s will to provide everything they need to remain united.
Taking the first part of verse 16 which deals with who chooses who, we read:
These words contain a very great principle. Christ was in no sense
the choice of the people. He was the “Elect,” the “Sent” of God, and
the Apostles were in no sense elected by the Church, but chosen,
ordained, and sent by Christ, after having been given to Him by His
Father. This is the first principle of all Church rule and action, that
it originally comes not from the beneath, but from above. (Sadler)
Another source informs us:
The pronouns you …. I are emphatic. This verse emphasises the
fact that discipleship is ultimately due to the divine choice, not
to the decision of the individual alone. The disciples are Jesus’
“friends”, not because they took the initiative in choosing Him,
but because He chose them. (Newman and Nida)
Jesus then, in the second part of Verse 16 returns to the power of prayer among His disciples
The Lord’s choice of them was not only that they should bear
permanent fruit, but that they should put up prevailing prayer.
The first and greatest instance of this was, that their united
prayers brought down the Promise of the Father.
(Acts 1: 14) (Sadler)
Thus the status of “His friends“, and members of “His Household” became extended to all His disciples.
This I command you: love one another.
And finally in verse 17, Jesus as good as says: “I command you to abide in me, that by so doing you may have the power to love one another” (giving and receiving love).
Here is another of those well springs of Christian evangelism. The church will grow and serve its purpose and remain united within only in so far as it is faithful to the Lord’s command.
A Pause Before Our Conclusion
The scholars point out that verse 17, the last in our current text, is transitional. On the one hand, it reiterates verses 10 ― 12; on the other, it sets the stage for the contrasting hatred displayed by the world, and discussed by the text which follows. (Carson and others). Our Lord’s discourse has been preparing His disciples for the difficulties which are about to confront them. The following is a paraphrased summary of verses 17 ― 20, to help us appreciate the power of our Lord’s teaching to his Apostles and disciples as He prepares them to evangelise the world in which they lived.
“All that I have said to you may be summed up in the one precept
that you love one another; and you have indeed need of this love
among yourselves, for the world will hate you because it has hated
Me, and you represent Me: but be not shaken in mind, or dismayed
at this, rather take courage, for this hatred on the part of the world
will prove to you that you have My mark upon you, that you are
following My example, that you are doing My work: and so you are
not of the world, but of God and of Myself.”
“It is not likely that you will fare better at the hands of the world
than I have done; you must be prepared to experience the same
treatment. The mass of your countrymen will reject your words,
just as they have rejected Mine; but the few, the godly remnant —
those whose hearts God has prepared — will keep your sayings as
they have kept Mine.” (Sadler)
We close this most encouraging lesson with two quotations from St. Augustine. These reflect the powerful spirituality of the early Church which spread rapidly around the world.
St Augustine took this Gospel very seriously. His writings reflect this in a way which has never been quite matched since. Perhaps, in humility, we might let his prayer below help us to take in the full power of our Gospel reading; to take in the Lord Jesus himself.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Life As Members of God’s Household
6th Sunday of Easter Year B St. John 15: 9 — 17
1. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”.
What He was on about was taking steps to follow His model and draw on His strength to live a healthy spiritual life. If we do our best, we can expect, despite our short-comings, to experience His joy. That is something we will enjoy in an ever-increasing capacity.
2, Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you”.
One of the most amazing aspects of friendship with Him, is that we share the love, knowledge and plans He shares with His Father — as far as our nature permits. There are no secrets. We are friends — we are family. We live in the same household of God. Jesus wants us to value that status, and care enough for others to do what we can to help them also experience what it is to belong to Him.
3. Jesus told His disciples that they may ask the Father anything in His name and it would be granted. Most of us are aware of just how much this teaching of Jesus is abused and distorted. It is quite clear that our Lord is talking about earnest prayer for the Church as it spreads and draws in people from every culture. Our Lord’s words were never intended to be trotted out by prosperity preachers who are causing such havoc in the Church today, by applying His teaching to their own financial gain.
If we keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Living Word, we will never misapply His written Word.
An Easter Prayer
Somehow, your language in speaking to your disciples the night before the crucifixion as a common criminal, still seems so remarkable. It still sounds, after two millennia, so striking, so compelling. Your disciples had never heard anything like it before — and nor have we.
Our anti-religious world makes no provision for this sort of talk. Instead it stands today, for what it always stood: “might is right!”
The world’s message is: “You’re on your own, buddy, and you had better make the most of it because there’s no second chance. It’s kill or be killed.”
Your message, Lord Jesus is, first and foremost, that we belong. We belong to you. We belong where you reside, and where you choose to have us dwell.
That is the mystery — that we belong to your family, in your household, where everything is shared with us according to our ability to cope with it. That is powerful good news for us!
Our prayer is that you will help us extend the boundaries of this great family, to reach all those who, likewise, wish to be part of your household. This is how we wish to bear fruit which will endure.
Some of us are good at doing all the talking, or buzzing about organising things. Some of us either cannot do these things, or feel a different calling — to pray for the extension of your kingdom. The thrill, in listening to your talk to the Apostles, is that when we truly seek to keep your commandments, and thus remain in your love, we are all as much part of your outreach as any member of your household.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your teaching and assurances. Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for sharing your joy with us. Thank you for your love demonstrated in laying down your life for your friends. Thank you for helping us keep your commandments so that we remain bathed in your love for us.
Thank you Lord Jesus.
John 15: 9 — 17
Sixth Sunday after Easter Year B
9 As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.
10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy
12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
13 5 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know
16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and
17 This I command you: love one another.
5  For one’s friends: or: “those whom one loves.” In ⇒ John 15:9-13a, the words for love are related to the Greek agapao. In ⇒ John 15:13b-15, the words for love are related to the Greek phileo. For John, the two roots seem synonymous and mean “to love”; cf also ⇒ John 21:15-17. The word philos is used here.
6  Slaves . . . friends: in the Old Testament, Moses (⇒ Deut 34:5), Joshua (⇒ Joshua 24:29), and David (⇒ Psalm 89:21) were called “servants” or “slaves of Yahweh”; only Abraham (⇒ Isaiah 41:8; ⇒ 2 Chron 20:7; cf ⇒ James 2:23) was called a “friend of God.”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,