‘You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”’ John 14:14-21
We pick up where we left off last week – still with Jesus teaching his disciples; almost a final throw of the dice to help them before the horrors of Holy week. If you remember last week Thomas and Philip wanted something a little more definite from Jesus – show us the Way, show us the Father – they asked, probably echoing the thoughts of the other disciples as they all wondered what was going on. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. I wonder if that was what Thomas and Philip were looking for? Somehow, I doubt it.
Jesus continues this week. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. A combination of love and obedience. How do we hear that? Is it the parental semi bribe to get a child to do as they are told; come on now, if you love me you will do the washing up won’t you? Such a hard thing for a child to resist without feeling guilty. That might be one reading of such a combination – and for us as adults we might take it as a sort of conformity to doing good and fulfilling social obligations; be generous at the bring and share; sign up for sides person duty; top up charitable giving in the face of a disaster, help out at the fete, visit our neighbour, join the cleaning rota. Churches are quite good at those sort of things – it is sometimes said that when you start coming to a Church you are more likely to be asked to sign a rota than you are to come for a meal!
While all those things may be good in themselves, is that it? And really, would we seriously claim that these kinds of things require the presence of the Holy Spirit? I know we can all be a bit tetchy but by and large, performing acts of charity is self-reinforcing in making us feel ok. And all the while we remain in control – even if there is at times a little hardening of the oughteries (as somebody once said to me) which might make us resentful.
Was this what Jesus was teaching – a little modest self-sacrifice? It is hard to imagine that would have driven Paul to engage with the Athenian philosophers about something breathtakingly new or even led Caiaphas and Pilate to conspire to crucify Jesus. Or even at that last supper to wash the feet of his disciples.
Can we hear the call differently – if you love me you will keep my commandments – not as an instruction to conformity or obedience but as a statement of fact. If we love Jesus then our hearts will fill with compassion; our lives brim over with empathy.
The only commandment Jesus gave was love one another as I have loved you – a love, which was reckless, extravagant, generous, and compassionate. Love not as a safe investment in heaven, but a commitment come what may. The living of which seems impossible – loving your neighbours, forgiving those who hate you, serving the sick and the lonely; loving the ones with whom we agree, and the ones with whom we emphatically disagree. The ones we naturally like, and the ones we do not.
Those things are hard. Hard and costly. And yet Jesus’s words in this Gospel are crystal clear. It is not sufficient (or even meaningful) to profess love for Jesus while we hold ourselves apart from our fellow human beings. To love Jesus is to love others. All others. The lover, the friend, the neighbour, the companion. But also the foreigner, the stranger, the misfit, and the enemy. And ourselves as our lives are transformed. That is where the journey begins. Here, now. Jesus said he would give us an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with us and help us along this journey of change and transformation. The question is whether we are willing and prepared to take the risk – remembering Jesus ‘ words to Nicodemus: the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3.8)
Love me by keeping my commandments, Jesus says. These are finally not two separate actions. They are one and the same. We love because we are loved. We obey Christ because we are in Christ. The love we are commanded to share is the love we are endlessly given. “You in me, and I in you.” The very definition of love.
Impossible? Isn’t everything about this season of Easter impossible? The breaking in of the new in totally unexpected ways.
Which is just what we need right now in this time of corona virus when getting back to normal is going to look hugely different. Do we as Christians have things to say, as did Paul in his talking to the philosophers in Athens, as the world struggles to discover new ways of meaning and happiness. And how to begin? Pray that the Holy Spirit will open our hearts with love and guide us in all that we do and say; that our wisdom and understanding deepens. Do not settle for less; lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for love is the kingdom, love is the power and the glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Revd Jonathan Morris