Sunday, May 13, 2012

Love! Love! Love!

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 in My name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15.16-17)

Crawling Out

Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” The quote resurfaced—seemingly out of nowhere—while I read this Sunday’s Gospel, John 15.9-17. If you don’t know the text, or it’s been a while since you’ve taken time to sit with it, I heartily urge seeking it out. It is, in my opinion, Scripture’s most glorious “crawling out” passage, the signal moment when Jesus bares His soul to His disciples. It comes during the Last Supper, a private setting charged with urgency that creates a very specific kind of intimacy between them. Although the disciples don’t know it at the time, Jesus is telling them goodbye. Much of the conversation is devoted to preparing them for what’s about to happen, as Jesus assures them the terror about to befall them is meant to be and instructs them to continue in His absence.

Nearly halfway into the discussion, Jesus switches gears and reflects on the deep love that has grown up during their time together. He compares Himself to a vine and calls the disciples “branches,” essentially saying they are attached to Him in an eternal bond. The tenderness is breathtaking. He goes on to say, “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (v9) The proof of their love will be shown in keeping His commandments, He tells them, adding in confidence, “I have said these things to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Most of all, Jesus wants the disciples to savor their shared affection’s extraordinary nature. All they’ve experienced, learned, and shared together has altered their relationship. They’ve moved far beyond the standard rabbinical dynamic in which servile respect places a wedge between teacher and student. Being grafted together draws them close to the point of inseparability, if not physically, most surely emotionally and spiritually.

In verse 15, Jesus tells the disciples, “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.” We have no secrets, Jesus says, describing the sort of intimate trust that can only exist among caring friends. The incomparable love Jesus has for the disciples calls to His soul and makes it crawl out of its hiding. Of all the astonishing moments recorded in the Gospels, this one finds me most envious of the disciples. I can’t imagine how it felt to hear Jesus speak these words of love. I have no idea how I would have responded had I been seated at the table.

Seeds of Greatness

It is, of course, a love so true that it feels too good to be true. It’s the kind of incredible love that makes one wonder how and why it came about. To put a rather coarse point on it, it’s the sort of love that mystifies the troll when the beautiful princess tells him he’s loved above all others. If I were one of the disciples, I’d be so taken aback by Jesus’s declaration I’d question what He said. Perhaps I read too much into it. Perhaps I was projecting my longing to be loved so intensely onto His words. Perhaps the wine had gone to my head, magnifying what I wanted to hear to the degree it distorted what Jesus actually said. Jesus, being human and divine, apparently senses the disciples might later discount His expression of love as an overstatement to bolster them once He’s gone. So He removes all doubt that His love for them is real. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you,” He reminds them. (v16) It’s as if He’s fondly reminiscing about their initial encounters when He called them away from their homes and occupations, and the awkward period of getting to know one another that followed. Their history implicitly plays out in His comment: “I chose you. You accepted. And ever since, we’ve grown together in love, trust, and purpose.”

The vine analogy resurfaces when Jesus stresses, “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.” This unanticipated torrent of emotion washes away any misgivings the disciples have about why Jesus chose them. From the first, He saw seeds of greatness in them—tiny germs of spectacular possibility hidden in their lowliness, their averageness, as fishermen and bureaucrats and deceptively ordinary people. For three-and-a-half years, Jesus has cultivated their character and opened their minds to carry on His mission. He has transformed them from dormant seeds into thriving plants capable of bearing fruit that will last. And He’s provided for their growth, granting them access to God, so whatever they need to yield lasting fruit is there for them. 

But Jesus also knows plants mature at their own pace in different ways. Some disciples will bloom earlier than others, possibly causing strife that may endanger their survival. So He ends this part of their conversation with a somewhat stern reminder: “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (v17) Whatever happens among them, love must remain their binding force. And in verse 13 He’s already made it clear what kind of love He’s talking about: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

So Great Is His Love

Abide in My love. Love one another. Love with such passion and generosity that you’ll give your very life in love. These are such overwhelming directives that we may dismiss them as impractical impossibilities. And many times when we greet challenges that can only be resolved by love, we’re tempted to go into hiding. If we can just disappear for a while—inconspicuously exit stage right until the unwieldy drama we’ve got strung up in works itself out—the chances are good that we won’t have to risk loving with the intensity and selflessness that Jesus expects.

In attempting to evade love’s demands, however, we forget one crucial fact. We did not choose Christ; Christ chose us. There are in all of us—ordinary though we be—tiny seeds of enormous potential. And Christ has invested His unconditional, incomparable love in cultivating our ability to bear lasting fruit. So great is His love that He laid down His life for us and opened our access to God so that we’re given all we need to produce sustaining nourishment in our lives and the lives that surround us. So great is His love that it makes our souls crawl out of hiding, into God’s marvelous light, where, although we may mature at different rates in different ways, the love that binds us together makes everything possible.

And here we cue the Beatles classic that, purposefully or not, rings out the Gospel’s greatest, most enduring promise: “Love! Love! Love! Love is all you need.”

No caption necessary…

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