John 15:9-11: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
This verb we’ve just heard – to abide, Jesus’ saying to “abide in my love” – appears many times in the New Testament, well more than 100 times, and especially here in the Gospel according to John and in the First Letter of John. The word’s repetition – abide, abide, abide – signals something of its importance, and yet the sheer repetition can blunt how radical and demanding Jesus’ words are, here: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
First, Jesus is saying here, “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Jesus here is not speaking to individuals, individually. He’s speaking to us, 2nd person plural: “If you-all keep my commandments, you-all will abide in my love.” Jesus here is talking about life together: we are to abide in love. The New Testament says virtually nothing about personal spirituality or personal salvation; all its emphasis is on the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, the New Humanity in Christ. [i] Jesus here is speaking to us.
And then this much-repeated verb, to abide. The Greek root, meno, means to remain, endure, be steadfast, wait, stay, continue… which goes without saying if we weren’t tempted to flee, abandon, disregard, vacate, denounce. The poignancy of the verb “to abide” is to remain steadfast when everything inside of you says, “I’m out of here.” “You’ve offended me or disappointed one time too many, and I will now, justifiably shun, or abandon, or punish, or get even with you. However many times I’m supposed to forgive, this is over the line. I’m done with you.” The verb “to abide” redresses that temptation to leave people.
And then, what Jesus is saying here is even more radical. This is not just about flight; it’s also not about fight. Jesus says, “abide in love.” There’s several Greek New Testament words we translate in English as “love.” This is the most radical of loves. This is self-sacrificial love, laying down our lives for another. The love here is not about mutual attraction or brotherly/sisterly affection. This is the kind of love Jesus demonstrates at the cross. Self-sacrificial love.
“You all: abide in love,” which are very strong words. Those who know us the best and love us the most can hurt us the worst. And we them. Jesus here is speaking to us collectively, not individually, and he presumes life together: that we need one another; see love, show love, God’s love in and through one another; and because we must be reminded so many times “to abide,” we know that this is not always easy. Necessary, exceedingly challenging, possible. Only made possible by Jesus who calls us to this high mark. Our living into Jesus command “to abide in love,” requires practice. And it requires prayer: Gracious Jesus: supply what you command.
[i] Insight drawn from the writings of Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
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