Commentary on John 15:18-21
Jesus has been urging his disciples to love all those around them as a sign of their love of him. Today he warns them that there is no guarantee that they will be loved in return. If they hated such a loving person as Jesus so bitterly, his disciples cannot expect to be treated differently.
And the reason they will be hated is because they will refuse to identify themselves with the values and priorities of the secular world. They will reject materialistic greed and competitiveness, the scramble for status and power, the hatred, anger, violence and revenge which mark so many people’s lives.
The most terrible thing to happen to Christians is for them to be loved by that world; it is a sign they have become part of it. “No,” says Jesus, “I chose you out of the world.” Once again he reminds them that the servant is not greater than his master. “They will harry you as they harried me. They will respect your words as much as they respected mine.” That is, hardly at all.
Some of us may find it difficult to understand this. We feel that the Church should be honoured and respected. We can get upset when we hear ourselves or our leaders rubbished in the media or hear of Christians languishing in jail or suffering torture simply for living their faith. But we are rightly proud of our martyrs and our courageous witnesses.
But there is a fate we often undergo in modern society which is far worse – when we are simply ignored and go unnoticed altogether. Our local church may be filled every week but what goes on there may have become completely irrelevant to the surrounding society. It is as if we did not exist.
It is also tragic when we find hate and division within our own community, which can be a major source of scandal to outsiders. And, of course, all through the history of the Church there has been sinful behaviour at all levels. We should not be surprised at that but it is particularly reprehensible when it goes on behind a veneer of moral superiority – the whited sepulchres that Jesus speaks about. All of this compromises our witness to the love of God for his people everywhere.
When any of these things happen, then we know we have really failed the Gospel.