John 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I 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. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[a] any longer, because the servant[b] 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. 16 You 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
In 2015 the Sixth Sunday of Easter falls on Mother’s Day. Preachers must be aware of this reality, even if they do not choose to make much of it in their sermons and worship planning. There is likely fodder here for making connections, with the command to abide in love and the message of chosenness being prominent. The reading for the day is a continuation of the conversation about vines and branches. The branches draw their sustenance from their connection to the vine. Believers draw their spiritual sustenance from their connection to Jesus, in whom they are called to abide. By abiding in the love that is God and mediated to us through Christ, we are called upon to love and therefore share in the joy that comes from Jesus. There is a strong sense of mutuality present in this discourse, as Jesus says to the disciples—you’re no longer servants, you’re friends. This is a very different status. It is one of equality, and according to John, Jesus is lifting his disciples (and us) to such a status.
It is important to remember that this status is not one we can aspire to. We can’t work our way into the position. No, it is a matter of a choice made by Jesus. This is a key message throughout Scripture. God called Abraham, Moses, David. God sent Abraham to a strange land so that a people might be formed. Moses was chosen by God to redeem Israel from bondage. God chose David to form a kingdom despite his youth and lowly position. There was nothing about these persons that made them stand out, but God made the choice. The same is true of the disciples. We probably make too much of their apparent lack of distinction, but nonetheless it is Jesus who chooses who will be his companions. As a result, Jesus is going to share everything given to him by the father with them. In other words, they have become the heirs of Jesus, and thus heirs of God.
Being that this text will be read on Mother’s Day, it is perhaps appropriate to consider the parent-child relationship. Children rarely choose their parents. It is the parent whom makes the choice. This is especially true in terms of adoptive parents. That might be the best image for this reading. After all, our relationship as children of God is not inherent in our being, but rather is a matter of divine choice. An adoptive parent has the choice of when and whom to adopt. One would expect that the choice is made out of love. It is a love that is rooted in the potentiality of the relationship, not the existence of one. We have been chosen to be friends, and not just friends, members of the family. As such we are privy to the divine conversations.
Jesus has chosen to share his life with us, for we are recipients of divine love. When we read a passage like this it is appropriate to ask whether or not we too are included in this community of friends of Jesus. If we can see ourselves in this position, then we can see ourselves being recipients of the love that is God. The power of this love is defined in sacrificial terms. As Jesus declares to the disciples—“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In keeping with this message, and remembering the context of the day, is there any greater love than a parent’s willingness to lay down her life for her child. Is this not why we are so scandalized when we read stories of parents who abuse and even murder their own children. We wonder how this is possible. Mother’s especially are not expected to act in such callous and malevolent ways toward their children. It is their duty to love and protect their children. As it is written in a hymn of Jean Janzen, based on the writings of Julian of Norwich:
Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light, grain of life and grape of love,
your very body for my peace, your very body for my peace.” (Chalice Hymnal 83).
We have been chosen by Jesus to be his friends and his continuing presence in the world. Paul uses the terminology election. All we can do, as Karl Barth suggests is, “as the beloved of God we have no alternative but to love Him in return. In the dawning splendor of his glory, we have no alternative but hope” [The Epistle to the Romans, p. 163].
Having been chosen out of love, as friends (children) of Christ and of God there is the expectation that we will bear fruit. After all, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. The Father is the vine-dresser, who prunes the branches to make sure they are productive (John 15:1-8). Therefore, having been chosen out of love to be the friends of God (and thus members of the family), we should bear fruit. And the fruit that we are commanded to produce is fruit that will last. Could this be why Jesus has chosen us to be his friends, that he might share with us the vision of God, which is rooted and grounded in love? If he has chosen us to receive the vision, then there is the expectation that we will act accordingly. That is, the love that has been shared with us, we are to share with others. As it is said by the author of 1 John: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).