28 October 2014

John 15:17-27

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” (v. 18)


Today the Church commemorates Saint Simon and Saint Jude. They are mentioned together at Luke 6:15-16 at the end of the list of Jesus' disciples. There, Simon is described as a zealot, one of those who took up weapons against Rome, fighting with zeal for the Lord's cause. Jude (so called to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot) is mentioned at John 14:22, asking questions of the Lord at the Last Supper. Christian tradition tells us that after Jesus' death they went together as missionaries to Persia and were martyred there. The New Testament also includes the Letter of Jude, which may or may not be correctly associated with the disciple of this name.

Their's was a story of two obscure disciples of Jesus, whose lives reflect much of what this passage teaches us about the Christian life. They faced suffering, persecution and ultimately death because of their commitment to the Lord, but they testified courageously to Jesus' name.

In today's passage Jesus explains that there is a clear opposition between "the world" and himself. He uses the emotive language of "hate" to express this opposition, and the two contrasting behaviours it engenders. Either people keep the word of love, or they reject it and persecute those who live by it. There is no middle way.

This either/or understanding is typical of the way Jesus presents himself in this Gospel: either he is accepted as the Son of God, or he is rejected. This explanation of people's behaviour goes back to the Psalms. God hates those who do evil (Psalm 31:6) and in return, they hate God (Psalm 81:15). Jesus goes on to explain that hate for him goes far deeper than personal dislike, because he is the embodiment of the Father (cf John 14:9). Jesus' 'works', signs such as the raising of Lazarus (John 11), challenge people to make that choice - and if their choice is sinful, they now have no excuse (cf John 9:41).

A society split in two, then, by people's response to Jesus; but God's gift of the Holy Spirit resources God's people in standing for the right (verse 26). They are held together through the loving Spirit of God in resisting the hatred which 'the world' feels for them (1 John 3:11-14). 

To Ponder

  • In light of this absolute opposition between Jesus and the world, how do we make sense of modern views that human cultures can be the place where Christ makes himself known?
  • Have you, or a church you belong to, ever experienced hostility from those around you who don't share your faith? If so, what enabled you to cope with this?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.