10 May 2015
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6B (RCL)
1 John 5:1-6
One could be forgiven for thinking that the designers of the lectionary goofed and assigned last week’s reading from John’s Gospel again this week. The refrain, “Abide in my love,” keeps repeating. I believe such passages (indeed the whole of John’s Gospel) were meant to be read aloud all in sequence. Hearing word pile on word has a lulling effect on the hearer, but then new themes are slowly introduced and interwoven in the discourse. The word “commandment” (entole) is pulled in like a strand of a new color in the tapestry.
But the form of its introduction forces us to rethink what a commandment is. The word is the standard word used by New Testament writers for commandments of the law. It means something like an order or an injunction (what a superior officer would give to a subordinate). But Jesus specifically tells us that he no longer considers us subordinates (servants), but friends, because he has told us everything he has learned from the Father. And his commandment is to love one another as he has loved us, and as the Father has loved him and he has loved the Father. This love involves entrusting one’s life to one’s friends.
This is not a fixed commandment, an instruction to observe a particular practice or avoid another, as Christians caricatured the Pharisees for giving. But, if we keep this commandment, then Jesus’ words (another word for the commandments of the law) will abide in us. In other words, the nature of God’s injunctions to us will emerge from the community discourse of entrusting our lives to one another.
Both last week’s reading and this week’s include a saying about the Father giving us whatever we ask of God. Last week, we read, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” This week, we hear, “I appointed (or assigned) you to go and bear fruit, fruit that abides, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” Fruitfulness, the discourse of the community and the community’s prayer are all inextricably linked together.
John never tells us what he means by fruit, but leaves the referent open. We can fill in the idea in any number of ways. In Isaiah 5, the fruit God expects of God’s vineyard is justice. In the prophets, we hear the vision of the restoration of the land including each person enjoying the fruit of his own vine, and sitting in the shade of his own olive tree. We can raise for ourselves what fruitful communities look like, and this might in itself lead to a fruitful discourse.
Keeping with the military image of entrusting one’s life to one’s friend (handing over one’s sword) and the idea of commandment, John seems to be imagining a community engaged in a discourse about fruitfulness, receiving instructions from God, endeavoring to enact those in the community, then returning to assess the strategy, to re-imagine, to share as friends in the process of tending the vineyard, and trying things again.
But, the discourse is not fixed to a set of written standards. The discourse is living and abides in the community. The criterion of discernment is fruitfulness. How do we know whether we are doing what God wants us to do? Does this bear fruit? We are stewards with God, co-gardeners, producing a rich, sweet, juicy life for the world.