John 15: 18 – 25 The world hates the disciples
‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me, hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfil what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason.”
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Before getting into the meat of this passage, let me define the “world” as I think St John is using it here. The “world” is humanity without God. Until we allow God to have control of our lives we will be selfish; in big things, in small things, at the level of nations and at the level of families.
I feel uneasy on two counts as I read this passage from St John’s gospel.
How do some people who are not Christians lead lives which are much more ‘Godly’ than most Christians? I’m going to park this question for another time. I don’t have any answers, and it doesn’t detract from my second question.
Does the world hate me?
The honest answer is that I don’t think so. And yet St John’s gospel suggests that it should.
Why did the world hate Jesus?
St John’s gospel suggests that the reason the chief priests and Pharisees conspired to have Jesus put to death was because he was too popular and might attract the wrath of Rome (John 11: 45 – 53). They were particularly worried by the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 38 – 44), and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12: 12 – 19).
Added to that, Jesus had driven out officially sanctioned traders from the temple (John 2: 13 – 17). He had deliberately broken the sabbath by healing the sick, and he’d encouraged one of those he’d healed to break it, too (John 5: 8).
He challenged the theology of the chief priests and Pharisees, firstly by breaking the Sabbath (which was a serious offence), and secondly by claiming to be the Son of God, which roused their anger so greatly that they tried to stone him (John 10: 22 – 31).
He challenged their economic system by driving out officially sanctioned traders from the temple.
He challenged their authority to subject him to their legal process.
Finally, he challenged the Romans (yes, even the Romans – why else would the chief priests and Pharisees have been so worried?), by raising a mob of disciples in Jerusalem in the days immediately before the Passover.
Jesus’ actions were a direct challenge to the power and authority of the leaders of his day in every way and on every level.
I think it’s important to realise that’s how the disciples would have seen it. That’s why, even as late as the last supper, we find them arguing about who will be the greatest in the new kingdom (Luke 22: 24). Of course they expected a military uprising!
Realising this also sharpens my own response to the study passage. Jesus was hated because he publicly and powerfully denounced the evils of the world.
Has the world changed?
There are some improvements, yes. Slavery is no longer legal (although it continues). Human rights are defined, even though in many cases they are ignored.
However, there is still a great deal of evil. Humans still fight (and compel others to fight wars) for power. Humans still exploit others. Humans still coerce or mislead others into having sex with them.
Today’s passage from the bible makes it clear that we can expect the world to hate us. It will hate us for the same reason that it hated Jesus; because we show it up for what it is. If the world doesn’t hate us, we should perhaps ask ourselves whether we’re being effective witnesses.
However – and it’s a big however – what is the command that Jesus gave his disciples?
‘This is my command: love each other.’ (John 15: 17)
Over and above everything, we are called to love. No one who came to Jesus with sincerity was ever too much trouble for him. He gave time and attention to the Samaritan woman; to Nicodemus; to Zacchaeus; to Matthew the tax collector; even to the thief crucified next to him.
We should love each other with sacrificial love, like Jesus.
Looking at the modern world with the radical eyes of Jesus’ teaching, that surely means supporting such things as:
- nations showing compassion to refugees;
- international trading rules that are fair to poorer nations
- equality in the provision of healthcare and education
But while we need to be aware of such matters, have thought and prayed about them, and, if God has called us to do so, we’ve taken political action, ultimately the most important thing is to love each other.
Thank you for the example and teaching of Jesus. Thank you for the Holy Spirit living in us and guiding us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen