28 October 2015

John 15:17-27

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.” (v. 20)

Psalm: Psalm 117


Behind today's passage is a deep understanding of inter-group conflict: all too common in a religiously or socially mixed society. Danger comes when a group feels threatened by a neighbouring group, or jealous of what seem to be privileges for 'them' are not available to 'us'. In no time the beleaguered group may resort to creating wild stereotypes or fantasies about the strange 'others'; or blaming them for everything that makes life difficult; or even hostility and violence. Rigid walls of demarcation are built (sometimes literally). All of this Jesus here calls 'hatred'.

Jesus warns his disciples that the Church will face 'hatred', from Jews (and gentiles). Jesus has chosen and called his friends to share in the values, the style of relationships and the moral and spiritual resources that he uniquely embodied, in the name of God. Individuals and groups who are not part of the Jesus-family are referred to as "the world" (vv. 18, 19). They will hate and persecute the Church as surely as they have unloaded their ill will on Jesus. They have refused to hear the truth widely proclaimed by Jesus, in his words and actions, that he is the authentic embodiment of God's life.

The Church is made responsible for two things after Jesus' departure: they must live together in mutual love (verse 17); and they must be witnesses in the world to God's love for the world, in their words and deeds. In spite of the hatred this provokes, the Church may hope that, as happened in the ministry of Jesus, some will hear the truth and respond (verse 20b).

The Church's witness must never return hatred for hatred. Only the help of God's Spirit (the Advocate) in them and among them can save the Church from that and empower them always to live as Jesus did.

To Ponder

  • What is your experience of inter-group conflict where you live or have lived?  What constructive initiatives helped mutual understanding?
  • Conflicts within the Church or between local congregations: How are they being dealt with in your situation?  What wisdom and experience can you contribute to the work of reconciliation?
  • Write in your own words a prayer to the Holy Spirit for help with the Christian vocation to love everyone you meet; and use it daily for a period.

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.