John’s Farewell Discourses 1

29 04 2008

My Spiritual Director has suggested that in addition to looking at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” I also pick a section of Scripture to do a bit of lectio divina, so in keeping with the Lectionary Cycle for Easter I have chosen the Farewell Discourses from the Gospel of John. When I write lectionary reflections I usually use a few texts from my personal library to help pull some thoughts together. By doing lectio I have basically taken then text from Gospel, read the New Revised Standard Version as well as the Message, and distilled my own thoughts from what spoke out of Scripture. So, in other words, what follows is the Reverend boy … raw. I have read this as if I am the recipient. I have tried to put myself in the place of the disciples who are listening to Jesus’ final speech before his Passion.

NRSV text can be found here. Text from the Message can be found here.

In essence, John 14 starts off “Fear not!” and “Trust me.” Many visitations from angels and other heavenly folks start off with “fear not” in the Old and New Testament. This, however, is a more gentle introduction to an important message.

Here is John 14, Jesus starts off by saying he is going away to prepare a place for us so that we may live with him. He also say that we know the way to place where he is going. That place is not by a way of rules or practices or actions, or associating with a particular group of people, but through HIM. The way to the place where he is going, the place he is preparing for us is shown by not things, but a person. We know the way if we know Jesus. And if we know Jesus, we know the Father.

I am reminded of my Rector’s sermon a few years ago about the “String theory of Salvation,” and how the phrases “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” and “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life … no one comes to the Father but through me” are interrelated. These two inclusionary and exclusionary phrases meet in Jesus. I have asked my rector to please forward along a copy of that sermon, for I would like to read it again.

Twice the disciples question Jesus and ask him to clarify what he is talking about, and twice Jesus says “Tsk-tsk! TRUST ME!” We are to trust that Jesus is the way to God because he IS God. It is natural to think, “but what about everyone else?” and on that he is more or less silent. Remember, Jesus never has a bad word to say to anyone unless they think they have “the ANSWER.” So, we are to trust that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. We are to trust that Jesus is the way to the Father (whatever that means) and that the Father and the Son dwell in each other and are a part of each other (whatever that means).

Speaking of trust, if we don’t trust Jesus because of the things he says, we should trust him because of the things he did and the example he led…and that includes the effect he has on people. Speaking further of the things that he has done up to this time in the Gospels, Jesus promises that we’ll actually do bigger things than what he has already done…and have bigger effects on people.

What does it mean to prayer “in Jesus’ name?” Is it a formula, like a magic spell to cause God to act on our behalf? Or should we look at it like this …. As Christians, we are agents of Jesus. We have been commissioned by Christ to continue the work that he has started, so anything we asks that is consistent with Jesus mission and who Jesus is and the works that he has done, then yes, of course it will be fulfilled. And what did he do? He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he reached to those to whom the world and religion had no use for.

“if you love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Advocate.” What are his commandments? Love God and to love each other. Indeed, by following Jesus’ example we show that we love God by loving each other.

Jesus’ promise is to give us another Advocate, a friend, a guide, who will be with us forever. Right now (at the time of the speech) the Advocate and friend is with us, but soon he will also be in us if not in the same way, but a similar way, that the Advocate, the friend, the Spirit, is with and in Jesus. Likewise, Jesus talks about how he is with and in the Father, and the Father is with and in Jesus, so maybe this is all connected somehow?

Jesus promises not to leave us alone, but he will come to us again. Because he is alive, so we also are alive. This is the promise of the Resurrection, of Easter. Jesus is with and in the Father, and Jesus is with and in us. I don’t know to what extent the in-ness and with-ness of all these moving parts are true, but it seems as if the bottom line is, we are all connected to each other and to God through Jesus. Believing in Christ … trusting in Christ … in not only believing or seeing, but it is truly living. The connection to God and to each other that was broken at the Fall of humanity has been restored in some way because of Christ…who he is and what he did.

If we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments, and his commandments all have the verb “love” in its imperative form. To love him means to follow his example, his manner of life. And HIS example was set by the Father, whom he followed perfectly as it says in Scripture.

The words that come up again and again are “follow” and “keep” … but not “obey.” What are we to make of this? Granted, “to Keep” is very similar to “obey” but the main idea here seems to be faithfulness as opposed to adherence. Someone once told me that being a Christian was not about being right, but about being faithful. How true that is! And how true it becomes more and more. The more I learn, the more I realize I really don’t know anything, and it really all comes down to trusting and loving.

Jesus also says the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Friend, the Guide which is promised to us will be with us and in us forever and among other things will remind us of Jesus’ teachings, his example.

One of Jesus’ parting gift to us is peace … with the clarification of “not as the world gives.” The peace that the world gives is very conditional. “You will have peace if you do a, b and c” and “you will have peace if you possess x, y and z.” Jesus’ peace is a gift. It is not contingent on doing anything or having anything. It is an unconditional gift.

Because of his gifts, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, our friend, advocate and guide, we can know God, and we can be truly alive.

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6 responses

1 05 2008
FranIAm

This is fascinating and I love that you write about all these things in the way that you do, what a gift. As usual, I have Mimi (and God!) to thank for this and I am grateful indeed. You give me much to ponder.

I read this several times and will probably continue to think and pray on it.

One thing that caught my attention was this :
“The words that come up again and again are “follow” and “keep” … but not “obey.” What are we to make of this? Granted, “to Keep” is very similar to “obey” but the main idea here seems to be faithfulness as opposed to adherence.”

The word obey is one of great fascination for me in my spiritual life. That is because of the many words that one might use to describe me, obedient would almost never be one of them.

You probably are aware the etymology of obey is related to listening and I think that subtle, but essential point changes everything about how I relate to obeying.

In any event, I agree that faithfulness trumps adherence in matters of following Jesus. Although as the saying goes, – OCICBW!

Thank you for all your thoughtful and very beautiful work here. Peace and many prayers to you on this Ascension Day.

I like this time between Ascension and Pentecost – an important time to reflect, hope and pray for the coming of wisdom, the Holy Spirit.

1 05 2008
John-Julian, OJN

I love your playing around with the words “with” and “in”. One time I challenged students to replace “in” with “inside” and see what happened.

I also suggested that only ONE human being has ever entered heaven or ever will: that one human being is Jesus the Christ. And WE cannot get to heaven independently or privately, but only insofar as we are part of (i.e., “inside”) Jesus Christ.

Good stuff! Good man!

1 05 2008
John-Julian, OJN

Don’t know where that stupid smiley face came from in my last post! I DIDN”T PUT IT THERE!

2 05 2008
Doorman-Priest

I thought this post was fascinating and very thought provoking. I’d like to hear more of the “string theory of salvation”.

3 05 2008
Grandmère Mimi

The more I learn, the more I realize I really don’t know anything, and it really all comes down to trusting and loving.

RB, that is the truth. That’s keeping it simple. Two passages from the Scriptures come to mind. Mary’s words at the wedding at Cana, in fact the very last words she speaks in the Bible, “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you”. The other words are from the account of the Transfiguration, the words at the end of Matthew’s account, “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only”.

Following Mary’s advice as best I can, and trying to see Jesus in everyone, as he himself said when the righteous asked him, “Lord when did we see you…?” seems to me a way to move forward. I hasten to add that I’m not all that successful in the doing. Lord, have mercy.

7 05 2008
RFSJ

RB,

I am, as usual, behind on reading blogs. John is my favorite gospel, and the Farwell Discourse is my favorite piece – John 17 in particular. So I’m delighted you picked this to do some lectio on. I was particularly taken with this:

“to Keep” is very similar to “obey” but the main idea here seems to be faithfulness as opposed to adherence. Someone once told me that being a Christian was not about being right, but about being faithful.

How true indeed!

Bob

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