John 15:9-17, Abide in My Love

[May 10, 2015] Today is Mother’s Day, of course, though I am not prepared to speak directly about mothers. Our gospel text this morning is the continuation of last week’s text. It is an Easter text even though the occasion is Jesus’ Last Supper. It is an Easter text because Jesus is speaking about the transformation of all things that will take place after his going away to and coming from the Father by his death and resurrection. Motherhood is related to Easter in that Easter ushers in new life: not only the new life of Jesus but new life in us; and not only is there new life in us but we become fecund, the new life in us generates new life in others: the Father is the Mother of the Son, the Son becomes our Mother, and we become mothers of others. Of course, this is not explicitly in the text: I am reading into it a concept that is not foreign to the scriptures and that actually emerges in the next chapter, in 16:20-24 (though there the community is the mother and the resurrected Jesus her newborn). The present text is about the productivity of the vine and its branches.

If we follow the verb me (“abide”) and the noun mo (“abode”) in chapters 14 and 15 certain connections will become clearer to us. It is an important word in John’s gospel (occurring in John 1:32, 33, 38, 39 [2x]; 2:12; 3:36; 4:40 [2x]; 5:38; 6:27, 56; 7:9; 8:31, 35 [2x]; 9:41; 10:40; 11:6, 54; 12:24, 34, 46; 14:2, 10, 17, 23, 25; 15:4 [3x], 5, 6, 7 [2x], 9, 10 [2x], 16; 19:31; 21:22, 23, over forty times). The word menō/ mo is translated in a number of ways. Just in the New Jerusalem Bible the verb is translated: “to be, live, stay or stay behind, remain, rest, find a home, have a standing, or belong” [somewhere], “to hang over” [someone], “to endure or last,” and “to make [something] a home”; and the noun: “a home or a place to live in.” I like the old word “abide” because it can be used consistently with all of these meanings. In chapters 14 and 15 alone this word recurs 16 times.

Jesus says that he is in his Father and his Father is in him (14:10, 11, and 20). For his Father to be in him is for the Father to abide in him (14:10). He is thus the Father’s house (2:16, 19, 21; 14:2). Because he keeps his Father’s commandments, he abides in his Father’s love (15:10); thus doing the will of his Father correlates to abiding in his love.

Before the cross, Jesus was with his disciples, and abided with them (14:25). As Jesus abided with them and they beheld and knew him, so the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of reality or truth) was abiding with them (14:17).

After the resurrection, however, she who abode with them (the Holy Spirit) will now abide in them (14:17). When this happens—“in that day”—Jesus himself comes to us (14:18) and, as he is (eternally) in the Father, he will now be in us and we will be in him (14:19). As he is the Father’s eternal abiding place, so he is now our abiding place. As eternally he is the Father’s one abiding place, he has become many abiding places, a place for each of us (14:2).

So, by the divine initiative, the Holy Spirit comes to abide in us, and with the Spirit comes the Son. They abide in us. As the Father is in the Son, so when they abide in us, the Father also abides in us (14:23). And as the Son and Holy Spirit eternally abide in each other and in the Father, their abiding in us means that we abide with them in the Father. There is thus a mutual abiding in each other, the three eternally and the fourth (us) by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead—which has released the Holy Spirit so the Holy Spirit can enter into us (whereby the divine life, i.e., “eternal life,” enters us).

When we believe into the Son, we are thus born of God and love the Son and love one another, thus keeping the commandments. Abiding in the Son, and thus in the Triune God, we are affected: our partaking of the divine life issues in faith and love. To love Jesus is thus to be born of God; it is inseparable from faith, and it is also inseparable from that same love issuing forth to others.

So Jesus gives us an imperative, which is also a gift. We abide in him by his gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet he tells us to abide in him and to abide he in us (15:4, 5, 6, 7)—interesting language. It is already reality by divine initiative, yet we still need to make it real by our initiative. Our willing needs to correspond to the divine willing, so that the divine action can be activated in us. Yet our willing is also God’s gift. Our action in time is inseparable from the divine action, for it issues from the Holy Spirit operating within us. First the Holy Spirit brings us to new birth by enlightening our spirit; then the Holy Spirit is our new birth (our new life) within our enlightened spirit. From this life within us comes our active abiding in the Triune God: an abiding that outwardly manifests in faith and love.

So, by this inner operation of the Holy Spirit, by our abiding in Jesus (thus activating his abiding in us), the words of Jesus abide in us (15:7) as he abides in us. Thus activated, we abide in his love as he eternally abides in the Father’s love (15:9, 10). In each present moment of time (always in the present), we can thus participate in eternity, the eternity of active and mutual love.

The last use of the word “abide” in these chapters occurs in 15:16. “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I set you that you should go forth and bear fruit and your fruit should abide, that whatever you ask the Father in my Name, he may give you.” This is in the context of Jesus being the vine (the Tree of Life in the center of creation) and we the branches. The branches should bear clusters of grapes, or else the vinedresser will cut them off; the ones that bear grapes he carefully prunes. The “fruit of the vine” refers to wine (made from the crushing and treading of the grapes), emblematic of suffering and joy, our suffering being productive of joy in others (and in ourselves too).

“Going forth” refers to our apostolate. We go forth into the world of people to suffer and to bring the wine of new life—the divinized human life of the risen Jesus—to others.

So, in a few minutes, I have gone through the word “abide” in these two chapters. But this is still a terribly artificial way to read the text. The other word that we see a lot of in these verses (15:9-17, nine times), is “love” (agapaō, and aga)—13:1 [2x], 23, 34 [3x], 35; 14:15, 21 [4x], 23 [2x], 24, 28, 31; 15:9 [3x], 10 [2x], 12 [2x], 13, 17; 17:23 [2x], 24, and 26 [2x].

To abide in the Triune God is to abide in their mutual love. (9) As much as the Father loves the Son (this being the divine nature, it is without limit), to that extent the Son loves us. We are to abide in this love. (10) “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” What are the commandments of Jesus? According to the first epistle of John (the same pool of language and concepts as the gospel; probably the same author), the commandments are two: that we believe in the Name (or revelation) of God’s Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another (3:23). We do not find anything else in the gospel. By abiding in the revelation of Jesus Christ and by loving one another we abide in Jesus’ love for us, which is an expression of the mutual love of the Triune God that draws us in and includes us.

(11) If we do this, his abiding in us expresses itself in joy: “that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full.” This is the wine of the grape vine. It bears fruit in joy.

(12) So, since we are “within” the context of the revelation of his person in these chapters—it is here assumed—his commandment (singular) then becomes, “that you love one another even as I have loved you.” Our love for each other is not something self-generated but is the expression of the love in which we are abiding, the divine love of Jesus, the mutual love of the Triune God that Jesus expresses to us. That love is expressed in human terms to its ultimate extent: (13) “No one has greater love than this, that one lay down his soul for his friends.” To lay down one’s soul is to lay down one’s life but also everything that one has and is. It is to offer it up, to let it go, to become nothing. To love is to give one’s self. The mutual love of the Triune God is self-giving love; each gives up itself completely for the other, each receiving from the other their complete self. It is the meaning of sacrifice, a concept central to spiritual economics. What Jesus is saying is that he does not love less just because he can take up again the life that he lays down: the sacrifice is in the giving it up. He did not just lay his life down, but gave his life, not to us but to the Father, but nevertheless for us, out of unlimited love both to the Father and to us.

“Us” is inclusive of the whole creation, but we are the receiving “face” of creation.

(14) We are Jesus “friends” because we believe in his Name and love one another. (15) Because we are his friends and not merely servants, he reveals himself to us. He “is” the Word, the revelation of the Father, but he also hears the Word (about himself) and reveals this Word to us that we may believe. We are his friends because he has been revealed to us and continues to reveal himself to us.

(16) Again, we believe not on our own initiative but because he chose and revealed himself to us and the Holy Spirit operated inwardly in our spirit to receive this revelation. Now we must bear the wine of this revelation—of the divine life within us—into the world around us, the creation, and in particular to the “face” of the creation that we see in our fellow humans. “We should go forth and bear fruit, fruit that should remain, that whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ Name, he may give us.” The apostolic life is a life of continually dying to the false self, thus suffering, that the divinized human life of Jesus within us may flow out to others and begin the transformation of the whole creation by its divinization.

Our asking is for the sake of this work, for the apostolate. Here Jesus says that the Triune God takes responsibility for this work, but we must learn to cooperate in it by learning to ask.

(17) Finally, Jesus says, “These things I command you that you may love one another.” Our participation in the revelation of God by the Holy Spirit brings us into a participation of the divine (eternal) life itself, and in a mutual participation in the unrestrained love of the three Persons of God for one another. The divine work of the divinization of the creation beginning with the new spiritual birth of the believer issues in our participation in self-giving love, the divine nature itself. This is manifested, if it is real, in our love for one another.

1 comment to John 15:9-17, Abide in My Love

  • Petra Aleah

    Here is my meditation on last Sunday’s gospel text. I simply consider two words: first the word “abide” and then the word “love,” and thereby attempt to open up the words that Jesus here speaks, which John set in his narration of Jesus’ Last Supper. It follows, and is part of, Jesus’ illustration, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “Abide in me and I in you,” he says. Here, “Abide in my love.” The old word “abide,” of course, comes from King James’ 1611 authorized version of the Bible. It comes from William Tyndale’s 1534 translation, “Byde in me and let me byde in you.” It means, in other words, “to stay, remain, or dwell.” This word is used repeatedly in John’s gospel and concentrates in this setting. The other word that is used repeatedly in this setting is “love.” The divine nature, which we can grasp in the mutual love of the Triune persons, is that into which Jesus invites us by the revelation of his metaphysical reality, his consciousness as “I am” being the eternal center, source, and end of creation. Active mutual love is the divine nature: we find ourselves as created beings when we participate in it.

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