Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Alfred Gorvie



John 15:9-17
6th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Analysis by James Squire

9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I 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. 16You 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 him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

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“Jesus proceeds to lay down his life for his friends, defeating the darkness in the process.”

Author’s note: Verses 13-15 are very interesting, especially with an eye toward what the writer does not say… yet! The greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (v. 13). That’s the gold standard Jesus sets here (question: for whom?). You are my friend if you do what I command you (v. 14). This sounds a little arrogant on the surface, until… I no longer call you servants, but friends (v. 15). “Friend” is apparently not a designation we earn from Jesus, but rather is something he bestows on us. Verse 16 reinforces this for us, in case we are a little slow on the uptake. So, who does that gold standard in verse 13 apply to, at least first and foremost? We wait on pins and needles to find the answer in the  remainder of John’s gospel (but I’m sure you can guess).


DIAGNOSIS: Turned off by Jesus

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Jesus is not loveable
In John’s gospel, loving Jesus is far from easy. He is always arguing with religious leaders, and it often gets heated. Near the end of the very long day captured in John 6, the disciples see a mass exodus of people who have had all they can handle from his talk of “eat my body and drink my blood.” When the disciples ask him about it, he gives them something akin to “Et tu, Brute?” – “Do you also wish to go away?”(6:67).  That exchange led to a beloved liturgical piece Lutherans have often used to introduce the reading of the gospel text for the day – “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (6:68).  But Jesus does seem to drive a hard bargain.

This unrelenting, uncompromising approach to saving the world from some form of darkness is all the rage these days. “You are my friend if you do what I command you” is so repellant these days precisely because so many have used this line in service of evil masquerading as good. Yet, do people really fare any better with the alternatives?

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): We cannot abide with Jesus
Abiding with him is even harder when he is living in this world but seemingly at war with it instead of abiding with it. Everywhere they go, there is rancor and discord. John’s gospel sets a very strident tone for Jesus, and we just are not sure we are up for the fight. After all, we have no trouble abiding in the world. We know it is far from perfect – in fact right now the warts are as plain and plentiful as they can be – but we can move about without picking a fight everywhere we go. Maybe Jesus does not intend to, but he sure is a lightning rod for arguments. Jesus’ notion of love and abiding is just not for us when it seems to set us against the world we live in.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Try living in the darkness
The world we live in is darkness, and maybe there is a reason why Jesus is so combative as he travels in it. Choosing the darkness over Jesus means never knowing the kind of love that Jesus speaks of. We think that love is great but unattainable. However, the cheap substitutes we are left with don’t really satisfy us.

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PROGNOSIS: Lifted up and empowered by Jesus

Step 4-Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Jesus conquers in the darkness
We miss the genius of John’s Jesus. He speaks ill of the darkness – in the midst of it. They are in an ordinary room in or near Jerusalem, the place where the forces of darkness are arrayed against Jesus. He knows that his idea of love and abiding is difficult for them to embrace. He wishes to get them to follow his command to “love others as I have loved you.” His way of doing that is to “call [them] servants [no] longer,” but instead “call them friends” – unilaterally. This is the start of his gift to them. Then, because he insisted that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” he places that requirement upon himself first. He proceeds to lay down his life for his friends, defeating the darkness in the process. He chooses them (v. 16) unconditionally and eternally. He makes a permanent home for them (John 14) – a safe place for them to abide with him.

The onus is not on us to choose between him and the darkness. As sinners we are always drawn to the darkness, but whenever we are, Jesus is standing victorious in the middle of it. He stands ready to give that victory to us.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Jesus befriends us in the darkness
“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (v. 14).  We are his friends because he does what his Father commands of him. As John 17 attests, he contends with this world in order to keep us from being handed over to the evil one. The rancor we witness comes from a place of deep caring. What he commands of us first of all is to receive his love and his gift of a home with him. We are his friends because he loves us enough to lay down his life for us, and we love that about him.

Step 6-Final Prognosis (External Solution): Jesus recruits us to bear fruit that lasts
What he commands of us next is what he also empowers us to do: to be willing to lay down our lives for our friends, who we call friends as a gift to them, not something they have to grovel for. “They” may not be friends in the traditional, worldly sense, but they can be. Our outreach to them is the same as Jesus’ approach to us in this text. As he said elsewhere in John’s gospel, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16).  We seek to bring Jesus’ promise to bear upon the “other sheep.”  We find them, not by hunting them down and subjecting them to some sort of initiation, but by befriending them. Instead of simply calling them friends, we are friend to them. We are trustworthy to them. We don’t lie to them, but we don’t impose on them. Rather we seek to serve them, even to the point of sacrificing our needs for theirs. We become “little Christs” to them, demonstrating his love for them. In this way, we invite them to love him and abide in him. In this way, we “bear fruit that lasts” – not for us and our standing with Jesus, but for those we serve. The world may still balk at this, but we do not lash out in response.  We share the love of Jesus, even as Jesus has loved us.