Our reading from John’s gospel sparks all kind of reactions in people. Some think it is really narrow, and opens us to all kinds of debate about who is abiding in Jesus and who is not, who is bearing fruit and who is for the chop.
For others this is their favourite reading and holds in it the essence of the gospel. How then might we read this?
David Ewart suggests the key to understand this passage is love. But love itself is a debatable concept. Just look at what we Christians have done and still do in the name of love. He offers these thoughts.
““Love” can be either a transitive or intransitive verb.
An intransitive verb is one where the subject is also the object of the verb. So for example, if someone says, “I love pizza” they are describing how they feel about pizza, and not what the pizza is experiencing from them. In the same way, when someone says, "I love you," they may in fact only be talking about their own experience. They are really saying, “I am experiencing feelings of love for you,” but you, on the other hand, may not be feeling much love from them. This kind of loving is really a kind of ego trip. “I” am in love.
In order for love to be a transitive verb, the one who is loved must experience the love. “I love you” ought to mean that I am behaving in ways that give you the experience of being loved.
Just as “I feed you” ought to mean that I am giving you something that feeds you, so “I love you” ought to mean I am giving you something that nurtures you. This is what John means when he says that words without deeds are empty lies. Love expresses itself in behaviour that indeed is experienced by the other as love. Catherine and I make a point of remembering to say, “Thanks for loving me,” as much as we say, “I love you.”
However, loving someone is not the same as feeding them. When we feed someone, we usually give them something they don’t have. But when we love someone, we don’t give them something they don’t have. Rather, we connect with something that is already in them.
Jesus kind of alludes to this when he talks about us abiding in him as he abides in God and God abides in him and he in us. This is not about giving us something we don’t have, but is about connecting a circuit; connecting a flow of energy, purpose and life.
Actually, for John, "love" is not so much a feeling as it is a relationship of total trust, a bond of total loyalty. This is the way Jesus loves us: total commitment and loyalty. When Jesus says, “I have come that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” he is trying to connect his joy with the joy that is already in us; to awaken our joy; to heal our joy; to give our joy new hope, a wider horizon, and a deeper grounding.
When we love one another as Jesus loves us, we first learn from Jesus what love is. And having experienced being loved by Jesus – had that love heal, restore and renew the loving that was already in us – we then love others the same way.
God is what love is. Love abides in Jesus, and Jesus abides in us. Let us be open to the Love which abides in Jesus; let it abide in us; that being transformed ourselves, we may in turn love as we have been loved. Thanks be to God for the transforming love lived in and through Jesus. This is good news for today.”