Seriously? You want to be a friend of Jesus?

This Sunday, the lectionary invites churches to reflect on John 15:9-17. As I said in my column last week, most bibles group verses 1-17 together, with the heading “I am the True Vine.”

Every Sunday we look upon a huge cross in our meeting place. Yet, we miss the horror lurking in verse 9, which reads:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

What was the result of Jesus’ abiding in his Father’s love?

His was a life on the run. A life of being hounded by people who wanted him to heal them or others. A life of being hunted by those who wanted to shut him down. A life of disappointment with his companions. A life snuffed out by crucifixion; the most shameful method of death available.

Now do you see why, after Jesus said, “as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” he added “abide in my love”?

It’s because being Jesus’ friend often means being in trouble. And wanting to run away. That’s what the friends he hand-picked, the twelve apostles, did. They ran away after he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.[1]

In verse 14, we read that Jesus said, “You are my friends.” And in the following verses, we read that Jesus said he didn’t want his listeners to be merely his servants or slaves. He said he was elevating them. Blessing them. Promoting them to be his friends. To be people to whom he would reveal the mission God had given him. A mission to change the world.

Change is seldom welcome. Those who call for change are often resisted, hated. That is why there are shelves filled with books of advice for managers who have to change business practices.

That is why I’m not surprised that the passage which follows Sunday’s text begins with these words:

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Most bibles supply that passage with the heading “The Hatred of the World.”

But does that mean everyone who doesn’t submit to Jesus will hate the friends of Jesus? No. Not at all. Because people – like me, and perhaps you – come from the world to Christ, and therefore to the church.

Before I became a Christian, I found Christians annoying. But I respected them. They had something they wanted to share. They were persistent. Not for any personal gain. But because they were messengers of Jesus.

And I heard His voice, through them. Just like Jesus said, his sheep hear his voice and follow him.[2]

My becoming a Christian caused a rift with my parents. But my parents accepted me. It was not so for many others. They were disinherited. Some were beaten. Many have been killed by their fathers or brothers.

That too shouldn’t surprise us. The words and actions of Jesus caused division, as I said in my discussion of the Good Shepherd passage, John 10:11-18, which I titled “Jesus caused division. How about us?

If we are his friends, we will be where he is. Liberating people. Annoying people. The apostle Paul put it well. He said we are God’s co-workers[3].

In our passage, we read, in verse 16, that Jesus said:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

What is the fruit that we should bear? At the individual level, it is, as I said last week, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the things others should be able to harvest from us, enjoy in us, as individuals.

But what about us as a community, as a church, as the friends of Jesus. What have we been appointed to? What are we to ask for, to work for?

As I reflect on my life in Malaysia, I think our appointment is to crush ethnicity-based thinking. I think back to the reasons historian Rodney Stark listed for Christianity starting out as a reason for execution by the empire, then becoming the religion of the empire.

Stark pointed out that living under Roman rule meant constantly negotiating many ethnicities. He wrote of “the crazy quilt of ethnic diversity,” and “the blazing hatreds” which arose from it. He added:

“In uniting its empire, Rome created economic and political unity at the cost of cultural chaos. … People of many cultures, speaking many languages, worshiping all manner of gods, had been dumped together helter-skelter.”

It was a problem needing a solution. And the solution was the community of the friends of Jesus, the community of those who obeyed His command “to love one another as I have loved you,” which we read in verse 12.

Christianity served as a revitalization movement within the empire. It modelled and advocated a culture that was entirely stripped of ethnicity. All were welcome without having to discard their ethnic ties.

Being a friend of Jesus means avoiding, calling out, resisting, any use of ethnicity or religion to divide or to demonize or to show favouritism. And modelling a community in which there is zero racial discrimination.

That’s a tall order in a country ranked world’s number two for racial discrimination, second only to South Africa (link), in a list of 76 nations.

But that’s the mission of Jesus. That’s the call, the appointment he’s given to his friends, his co-workers. It comes with the promise that if we ask in his name, we’ll have it.

What could bring us more joy than working and hurting with him, bringing healing, shaping a new Malaysia?

I want to be a friend of Jesus. Seriously. Don’t you?

Peace be with you.

[1] But they all, even Judas, came back. And he emboldened, empowered, and commissioned the 11.

[2] John 10:27.

[3] 1 Corinthians 3:9, NIV. ESV uses “fellow workers.”

1 thought on “Seriously? You want to be a friend of Jesus?”

  1. Pingback: Does it make sense to speak of holiness? – Bangsar Lutheran Church

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