29 April 2018
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5B (RCL)
1 John 4:721
If you read these passages aloud, you will quickly discover that “abiding” is a theme for the Johannine author. The verb occurs six times in the passage from John’s first letter, and eight times in the passage from the Gospel. The letter appears to have been written during a conflict within the community (2 and 3 John seem to be cover letters for 1 John, one addressed to the leader of the community and one to the community itself; and both speak of those who have left the community). The only way of being fruitful is to abide.
This dynamic is probably not as operative in the Gospel passage, although there does seem to be some fear of people departing. In small, unstructured communities, the way loyalty is achieved against the threat of departure is to bifurcate the world into inside/outside, good/evil, light/darkness, and to consign all who leave to the outer darkness. We seem to be trying to do this same classification on a larger scale in our current political discourse.
But, I think these passages have something else to say besides simply the threat of outer darkness against those who want to leave. The Gospel talks about fruitfulness, without ever specifying what that fruit is. As we look at the lives of our communities, using the dynamic of fruitfulness may be a helpful way of thinking about what makes for good community. And because John doesn’t specify what that fruit is, we can be expansive in our thinking. What makes life together tasty, juicy, sweet and good?
1 John says that fear has to do with punishment, and perfect love casts out fear. The lives of our communities, then, are based on love rather than the fear of punishment; what binds us together is our fruitfulness, not the threat of punishment. If our lives together don’t seem juicy and sweet, we might need to reexamine the basis of the relationships that hold us together.