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.
12 ‘This 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.
Translation: Just as the Father loved me, I loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept the commandments of my Father and I remain in his love. These things I have spoken to you so that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete. This is my commandment, that you love each other just as I have loved you. No one has love greater than this, that one might lay down his life on behalf of his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, because the slave does not know what his Lord is doing. But I called you friends because all that I have heard alongside my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I lay you down so that you might go and produce your fruit that might last so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I am giving you these commands so that you might love one another.
Background and situation: The lection continues on from last week's reading (15:1-8), and most scholars see that reading and this week's as one unit.
For example, verses 1-8 center on Jesus as "the true vine" and the importance of "producing fruit," a theme which recurs in verse 16. Also, the Greek word menein--"remain, abide"--is used in both sections. As Fr. Ray Brown puts it, the two sections can be summarized thus: Remain in me (15:1-8) and remain in love (9-17).
Brown also notes an interesting structure of the verses 7-17. (See page 667 in The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible). Verses 7-10 are parallel with verses 12-17. The themes of the former section are echoed in the latter section.
Beginning this schema are Jesus' words, "If my words remain in you," (v. 7) which is ultimately closed with, "This I command you" (v. 17). In between, we see the themes of "asking," "fruit", "becoming disciples," "the Father loved me," and "I have loved you," in verses 7-10. These are paired with "I have called you friends (beloved)," "I have revealed everything I heard from the Father," "I chose you," "producing fruit," and the Father giving whatever we ask in verses 12-17.
The themes of 7-10 are recapitulated in reverse order in 12-17.
Verse 11: The reason I belabor this subtlety is because, in this schema, the central point--the "swing point," you might say--is verse 11: "I have said this to you that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete." If Brown's thesis is correct, the "depth" of the section has to do with the joy of life in the Lord and in his mission of love.
The spiritual life may sometimes be difficult. In chapter 15, the fourth gospel talks about pruning the dead leaves from the vine. The things in us that do not support the mission of God will die and be taken away. God is not a sentimentalist. The spiritual life is not all "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."
That said, the section as a whole is meant to be encouraging. As mentioned in last week's comment, the connection to the vine is our connection to the Center, to the Divine, to Christ. This connection is life-giving and abundant. It produces fruit. It is joyful. We properly accent the difficulties of life in the Lord, but we fail if we do not also emphasize the joy of life in the Lord.
For the third time since 14:15, Jesus encourages those who "remain" in him to "keep my commandments." Despite the plural, there is only one commandment: "that you love each other just as I have loved you."
That, in a nutshell, summarizes the main themes of the fourth gospel: the mutual indwelling of Jesus' followers with each other and with their Lord whose lives issue in producing fruit on behalf of the Lord and for the love of the Lord.
What love means: The section 15: 12-17 recalls the earlier 13:34-35: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Now, in chapter 15 the author of the fourth gospel adds this: "No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
This is a new teaching. Jesus has previously spoken of laying down his life for the sheep, but the injunction to lay down one's life for others as an act of love has not been stated so explicitly. Wes Howard-Brook notes: "It is for the disciples an unprecedented idea, one that the Torah did not suggest and that remains foreign to mainstream Jewish thinking."
Love does not have to do with "general kindliness," as someone has put it, but rather includes such commitment and devotion that one would sacrifice their own life because of it.
Put another way, love has nothing to do with "feelings," but everything to do with "actions." (I once posed this question to a counselee: "Which of these is more loving? Your husband telling you he loves you, or your husband washing your car?")
Loving friends: The willingness to lay down one's life because of love is the basis of Jesus calling the disciples his "friends." (The word is philos. We should probably understand this as "beloved friends.")
He has called them "friends" because everything he has heard from the Father he has "made known" to them. The word we translate as "made known" is ginosko, a word of intimacy and depth. What Jesus has "made known" to the disciples is the very heart of the Father, which is self-giving love.
Kris Lewis at The Witness: Friendship in the first-century Mediterranean world was a serious matter. To be considered a friend was to be in a position of honor. Being a friend meant being treated as kin with the attendant obligations. To be a friend meant to look out for the welfare of the other, to put the other's needs on an equal footing with one's own. Friendship implied reciprocity as well -- to consider someone a friend meant counting on that person to return that level of concern and care. When Jesus calls the disciples "friends" he is investing them with this concern. He has shared with them what the Father has revealed to him, and he has given them the task of going out and sharing this revelation with the world.
As he does consistently in the fourth gospel, Jesus relates to his followers in an egalitarian way. He had called his mother "woman" in chapter 2 and at the cross. This seems abrupt to us, but, when viewed from another angle, "woman" may be seen as a term of equality.
Again here, Jesus has expressly rejected "slaves" in favor of "beloved friends"--again, a relationship of equality. In old Transactional Analysis terms, Jesus does not relate heirarchically to others, as in "parent" to "child," or "master" to "slave." Jesus relates "adult" to "adult," which makes for a much more mature and psychologically healthy interaction.
"I lay you down": The Greek word for "lay down" is tithenai. It appears in both verse 13 and verse 16. For consistency's' sake, and because it is quite likely the intent of the author of the fourth gospel to draw a connection between what was said in verse 13 and verse 16, it should also, in my humble opinion, be translated as "lay down" in verse 16. Ergo: "I lay you down so that you might go and produce your fruit."
Jesus intends to draw a parallel between his laying down his life and his friends laying down theirs. This mission comes directly from Jesus--"I lay you down." Its purpose is the production of "fruit that lasts," which is living in the way of the kingdom.
Moreover, it enables and achieves love. The reason Jesus is giving his command in the first place is "so that you might love one another." The Johannine community was very big on love, both love for Jesus and love for the community. No other literature of the New Testament speaks so deeply and eloquently on love as that which was produced from the Johannine community.
Image: George Rouault, Love one another, 1948