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John 13:31-16:33

11.01.2010

After the last supper (and first communion), Jesus gives what scholars call the farewell discourse.  There’s no evidence for this, but I imagine it as an ongoing conversation between Jesus and the disciples as they walk from their dining place to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In it, Jesus gives many of His most famous illustrations.

14:6 | In a definitive claim to divinity (a definitive divinitive?), Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the light and that no one can come to the Father except through Him.

14:8 | Phillip, demonstrating why he was not the most vocal member of Jesus’ crew, says, ‘Hey, wait a minute!  If you know God, introduce us!’  Jesus responds that He and the Father are one in the same, and that the works that Jesus did in His ministry and the claims He made are enough to either believe or not. 

15:1-11 | Jesus puts a twist on the existing image of Israel as a vine whose lack of fruit makes it good for nothing.  Jesus says that He is the true vine, the source of the fruit in the branches (us).  The old image, like the Old Covenant, emphasizes the individual responsibility of obedience and bearing fruit to prove worth.  It does to to instruct that none of us, as vines in and of ourselves, are capable of producing the fruit of obedience and righteousness.  The new image, like the New Covenant, expands the image and shows that we are more than just individual vines incapable of producing fruit on our own but that we’re just branches groing out of Jesus.  All we need to do is abide in Him, grow from Him, and love Him, and obedience and fruit will follow.  In this way, Jesus sets up the dynamic for relationship with Him after His ascent into Heaven.

15:19 | I have trouble with the statement that followers of Christ will be hated by the world.  Don’t get me wrong, at one level I accept it as true.  The message of the Gospel, while good news in totality, is a harsh one to hear, and it’s no surprise to me that the world is offended and angry upon first receiving this message. 

But I think that modern, Western Christians are too eager to cast themselves in the image of victims, as hated and persecuted.  I first realized this during the conversations around the release of The Passion of the Christ.  Christians maintained that Mel Gibson demonstrated a lot of courage and placed his career on the line by making this movie.*  I can’t remember if it was Conan O’Brien or Jon Stewart who had a field day with this idea, that a man was in some sort of danger for having made a movie in America about Jesus that wasn’t critical or blasphemous.  Being pro-Jesus was akin to being pro-puppy or pro-Mom.

I think that our culture reacts to us as Christians with bemusement or exasperation, but not hatred, at least not writ large or in specific reaction to the Gospel.  They react to people making sweeping generalizations from faith as a culture war tactic.  They react to judgment and hypocrisy coming from prominent pastors.  While there are definite exceptions, in our culture and without, I just don’t believe that ‘the world,’ as we encounter it here in 21st century America, consciously and explicitly hates Jesus and hates us for following Him.

In honesty, I think the world, as it were, is correct in this — that O’Brien or Stewart (whichever it was), hit the nail on the head.  Courage is making a movie supporting Jesus in Iran.  Courage is putting your life on the line to preach the Gospel in North Korea.  Courage is standing up in the name of Christ for the rights of ‘the least of these’ in Cuba.  In the muted safety bubble that is our culture, saying that making millions from filming a movie with a guaranteed audience that says, ‘Yay, Jesus!’ takes courage just cheapens the concept of courage. 

I don’t mean to say that there was no value in Gibson’s decision, or that being a vocal, visible Christian in our secular culture doesn’t come at any cost.  I just think we need 1) a better word than ‘courage’ to describe it, and 2) to recognize that there are places where Christians are dying because the world hates them and that there are people who truly hate Christ for who He is and hate us for the content of our beliefs.  I think if we inflate the level of ‘hatred’ inherent in most of our interactions with modern American culture, we risk missing out on what Jesus was really describing in the latter part of John 15.

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* For the sake of this discussion, let’s pretend that Mel went into retirement and seclusion after the release of that movie, never again making headlines.  Agreed?  Good.

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