Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 15.9-17
6th Sunday of Easter - Year B

Texts for 6 Easter B (TextWeek links):


Preliminary comments on John 15:1-17 can be found in the comments on John 15.1-17

The emphasis on bearing fruit from last week's text (15:1-8) is repeated in v. 16.

The first two verses of our text are related to what has gone before by the word "meno," which the NRSV translates "to abide" in vv. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, (and "to last" in v. 16). This word may also be translated by "remain, stay; live, dwell; last, endure, continue." It's a word that denotes the connection between a branch and vine, between believers and Jesus, Jesus' word, or Jesus' love.

There are also a number of new themes that appear in our text.

AGAPAO/AGAPE

The words agapao/agape, did not appear in vv. 1-8, but are found 9 times in our text. These words are prominent throughout the Farewell Discourse (ch. 13-17) -- the verb occurring 24 times in those chapters (and 13 times in the rest of the book) and the noun occurring 6 times (and only once in the rest of the book).

This verb in our text refer to:

  1. God's love for Jesus (v. 9, see also 17:23, 24, 26)

  2. Jesus' love for his followers (vv. 9, 12, see also 13:34)

  3. The disciples' love for one another (vv. 12, 17, see also 13:34-35)

The noun refers to:

  1. Jesus' love (v. 9, 10)

  2. The Father's love (v. 10)

  3. Human (Jesus') love that lays down one's life for another (v. 13)

Closely related to agapao/agape in John are phileo/philos (vv. 13, 14, 15). Gail O'Day (John, New Interpreter's Bible) writes:

The Fourth Gospel uses the two Greek verbs for "love (agapao and phileo) interchangeably (cf., eg., 13:2 and 20:2; 5:20 and 10:17), so when Jesus speaks of friends [philos] here, he is really saying "those who are loved" (cf. the description of Lazarus at 11:3, 11).... A comparison of 14:15 and 21 with 15:14 suggests that to be Jesus' friend and to love Jesus are synonymous, because both are defined as keeping Jesus' commandments. [p. 758]

Absent in these verses are any words about the disciples loving Jesus or God. (Although such images are found in 8:42; 14:15, 21, 28; 16:27.)

The emphasis in our text is on God's love for us and our love for one another.

Philip Yancy (What's So Amazing about Grace?) writes about this:

Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, "I am the one Jesus loves." I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"

What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day?

Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me." [pp. 68-69]

I believe that if nothing else, every parishioner in our congregations should leave every worship services having heard: "You are someone Jesus loves." (Whether or not they believe the proclamation is a different story.)

To quote O'Day again:

Jesus reminds the disciples (including the readers) that their place with him is the result of his initiative, not theirs; relationship with Jesus is ultimately a result of God's grace (cf. 6:37-39, 44). [p. 759]

ENTOLE/ENTELLOMAI

Another new theme is "commandment" (noun in vv. 10, 10, 12; verb in vv. 14, 17). Jesus keeps his Father's commandments, which specifically seems to refer to Jesus' death -- the laying down of his life, so that the world may know that he loves the Father (see 14:31 and 10:18). More generally, the Father's commands control everything that Jesus says (see 12:49-50).

We are to keep Jesus' commandment which is to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Just as Jesus' obedience to his Father's command is his witness to the world about his love for his Father, so our obedience to Jesus' command is our witness to the world about our love for Jesus (see especially 13:34-35).

The word translated "keep" (tereo, v. 10) carries more the sense of "holding dear" than simple (blind) obedience. In a love relationship, one should want to do what the other asks. Such obedience isn't a burden, but a free and joyful response of love.

While it is usually wishful thinking, in a perfect world, the parental "command" to children to keep their rooms clean, would evoke children's free and joyful response to do what they know is their parent's desire about their rooms. In fact, they shouldn't even be told what they should do in order to please their parents. Alas, though, it isn't a perfect world. Sometimes children and parishioners need to be told what they should do -- over and over and over again.

HINA

The little Greek word hina occurs 6 times in our text (vv. 11, 12, 13, 16, 16, 17). It can refer to the content of a statement as it does in v. 13:

No one has greater love than this that someone might lay down one's life for one's friends.

The second line, which begins with hina defines the "this" from the first line.

The same construction might be in v. 12:

This is my commandment, that you are loving one another just as I have loved you.

However, the primary meaning of hina is to designate a purpose or a result.

With this approach, Jesus' purpose in speaking or the result of speaking things, to the disciples is that his joy might be in them and that their joy might be full (v. 11).

Jesus' purpose or the result in appointing us is that we might go and bear fruit that will remain and that whatever we might ask the Father in Jesus' name, the Father might give to us (v. 16). Do Jesus' commands have the power of God's voice at the beginning of creation -- when he speaks, something happens?

Note that the "yous" in v. 16 are all plural. It is not about primarily about individuals bearing fruit or having prayers answered, but words addressed to a community.

How should hina clause in v. 17 be understood? As simple content as in the NIV (where it is not translated): "This is my command: Love each other"? Or as a result as in the NRSV translation: "I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another"?

It's like I said earlier, in an ideal world, a command evokes the free and joyful response. A command lets us know what the one who loves us wants us to do -- and we should naturally and lovingly want to do it and then do it.

Note also that the command to love one another is present tense = "keep on loving one another" or "Continue to love one another." It's a command about a continuous way of life rather than occasional events.

O'Day (John New Interpreter's Bible) writes:

The repetition of the love commandment in v. 17 provides a frame with Jesus' words in v. 12. This verse explicitly restates the theme of the preceding unit, but it also serves as a transition to the next section of the Farewell Discourse, 15:18-16:4a. In that section, the focus shifts from the love within the community to the hate and strife the community will experience in its dealings with "the world." Two themes that occupy a prominent place in the farewell setting, the love commandment and the theme of the abiding presence and relationship (meno) of God and Jesus with the community are thus brought to their joint conclusion in John 15:1-17. These themes will be picked up again in Jesus' culminating prayer in John 17 (vv. 21, 23, 26), but Jesus will not speak to his disciples again about either loving or abiding. [p. 759]

Philip Yancy (What's So Amazing about Grace?) writes about a definition of love that Mother Teresa gave at a National Prayer Breakfast.

Rolled out in a wheelchair, the frail, eighty-three-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate needed help to stand up. A special platform had been positioned to allow here to see over the podium. Even so, hunched over, four-feet-six-inches tall, she could barely reach the microphone. She spoke clearly and slowly with a thick accent in a voice that nonetheless managed to fill the auditorium.

Mother Teresa said that America has become a selfish nation, in danger of losing the proper meaning of love: "giving until it hurts." [p. 244]

I had never heard love defined like that before. We talk about love as the warm feelings inside when we are with a special person or even thinking about that person. We talk about "making love" to refer to sexual activities. We talk about loving a car or some other object, meaning that we really like it, or really want it, or we spend all our extra time working on it. We often think of love as getting or having something. It is a feeling I have or want to get. It is a person I get. It is an object I have or want to get.

However, Mother Teresa says that love is giving giving until it hurts. That's what Jesus does. In fact, he not only gives until it hurts; he will continue giving until he dies. That's how much pain he will suffer on behalf of those he loves. That's also the lifestyle that Mother Teresa lived.

THE GRAMMAR OF THE GOSPEL -- A SUMMARY OF THE TEXT

"You did not choose me, but I chose you" (v. 16a).

The basic sentence in English consists of a subject and a verb. Something or someone does something.

The word "gospel" comes from two old English words meaning "good story" or "God's story." The gospel is about what God has done, is doing, or will do. Grammar-wise, this means that God needs to be the subject of our sentences.

Sentences like "I have chosen God;" "I have decided to follow Jesus;" "I love the Lord;" "Do you love the Lord?" are not gospel. They are not sentences of what God has done, is doing, or will do. God is not the subject of the sentences, but "I" or "you" are. Sentences like "God has chosen you;" "Jesus has appointed us to bear fruit;" "God loves you;" "God gives you new birth;" are gospel sentences. God is the subject of the sentences. They are statements about God's actions.

NOT CHOOSING TO WIN

There was an episode on Wonder Years that I vaguely remember. It was about choosing basketball teams in PE class. The teacher chose two captains who picked the rest of their team. As usual, the poor players were always chosen last -- which did little to help their self-esteem. Kevin was the main character in the show. Some of his friends, who were usually chosen last, complained to Kevin. Kevin brings their complaint to the teacher, who promptly makes Kevin one of the next captains. He has to choose his team. His best friend -- and one of the worst players -- looks at Kevin with eager anticipation. Will Kevin choose him early in the rounds -- or be like all the other captains?

Kevin chooses his friend -- and he felt good about bolstering his ego. So the next round, he chooses another poor-playing friend. Some of those he had chosen were getting after Kevin. "Pick some of those good players. We want to win this game." Kevin kept picking the losers -- and he felt good about it -- and they felt good about being picked early.

As I remember the basketball game. Kevin's team did miserably. They didn't come close to winning, but they enjoyed the game. They weren't playing to win. They were playing to have fun. Isn't that what sports should be about?

If Jesus wanted to win in the religious game -- he should have chosen the Pharisees. They were the extremely pious people in the first century. They were the ones who prayed at least three times a day. They knew their Bibles. They worked hard at obeying every one of God's laws. They fasted once or twice a week to show their religious devotion to God. They gave 10% of their income.

Who did Jesus choose? He chose fishermen -- known to be crude and foul-mouthed, impatient and hot-headed. He chose a tax collector -- known to be a swindler. He chose a zealot -- a fanatical revolutionary. Jesus chooses us -- known sinners, known to be somewhat less than perfect, known to have all kinds of problems in our lives. As someone else sloganned: God elects the rejects.

But there is a little difference between Jesus' team of poor players and Kevin's team, who at first wanted to win. Jesus' victory is already assured. So it's no longer about winning and losing. It's about enjoying the game. Having fun. It is being filled with joy! Having life abundantly!


Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901
e-mail: brian.stoffregen@gmail.com