TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY ON JOHN’S GOSPEL
JOHN 15: 9
I have loved you just as the father has loved me; dwell in my love. If you obey my instructions you will dwell in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s instructions, and dwell in his love. I have spoken these words to you so that my delight may be in you, and your delight complete.
This is my instruction: that you love each other as I have loved you. Nobody has greater love than the one who risks her life for her friends. You are my friends if you do what I instruct you. I call you slaves no longer for the slave does not know what his master is doing. But I call you friends for I have made known to you everything I have heard from my father.
You did not choose me; but I chose you, and set you on, that you should go and bear fruit; and that your fruit would last; so that whatever you ask the father in my name, he will give it to you. I am giving you these instructions so that you may love one another.
The miracle is that in all probability Jesus never spoke these words but that they were invented by the author of this gospel or perhaps, by the community he served. That is not a judgement I make because the style of this utterance is so different from that presented by Mark, Matthew and Luke, considered by many scholars to be closer to Jesus’ way of speaking. No, in my judgement, the same memory of Jesus’ historical speech, issued in both creative traditions of Jesus’ teaching, although I think this gospel’s version to be further from the probable style of Jesus’ historical words. Like the other gospels however, it articulates the word spoken by Jesus’ life.
I might characterise the style of Jesus’ utterance in John’s Gospel as additive: meaning is built from one statement to the next: “I have loved you….. dwell in my love… if you obey my commandments you will dwell in my love……I have spoken these words to you so that my delight may be in you…..” You could not guess in advance what is going to be added; every clause has the force of revelation.
The discourse never lets go of either the father or of the disciples. As it adds statement to statement it insists that Jesus communicates to the disciples the love of the father. The theological conviction that Jesus is the creative wisdom of God made flesh is expressed in these deceptively simple assertions. The very syntax of the discourse trains the mind of the reader to imagine the eternal God sharing his love with humanity through Jesus. What an extraordinary achievement this is! How much of what we take for granted as Christian belief is generated here!
The love shown by Jesus is primary; he shows how he is loved by the father and invites his followers to inhabit the same love, which is founded on obedience, expressed in delight and ultimately proven in risking its life for the beloved. This laying out of life is the true instruction of Jesus. Only so can we accept the statement, “You are my friends IF you do what I instruct you.” On the face of it this is an authoritarian abuse of friendship, but if the instruction is Jesus’ sacrifice of his life, it can be accepted as a profound challenge. If disciples know this, they know what the master is doing, and are no longer slaves. Disciples are not originators of the movement they represent but are chosen out of a love which originates with the father, so that they may in turn love one another. The movement has no other end than this mutual love. Ah, what beauty, what wisdom, what necessary truth!
Beauty, wisdom, truth indeed! You rise to poetry.