John 15-17

Good morning! Yesterday’s passage from John ended with “Rise, let us be on our way,” but Jesus here goes on for chapters more! In John 15-17, he gives something like his valedictory speech, final instructions before leaving earth. Or maybe, given the significance of this day in the United States, think of this as Jesus’ final campaign speech on Election Day. (Go vote today!) In these chapters, Jesus speaks directly to his disciples (and then to God) about abiding in God’s presence, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the benefits of sustained faithfulness.

John 15 starts with the last “I am” statement, where Jesus calls himself the “true vine” and God the vine-grower. This metaphor of organic connection extends from Jesus to the people who follow him. For Christians to be fruitful, they have to remain connected to the vine that is Christ. Otherwise, disciples get all dried up and brittle, ultimately useful only for kindling. Instead, our relationship to Jesus is to be like that of him with God “the Father”—constantly abiding. Jesus elevates the disciples, telling them to consider themselves friends and not only servants, bespeaking relationships of more access, choice and commitment. This creates a camaraderie “in the trenches”, which accompanies a strong “us vs the world” mentality in Jesus’ remarks. No doubt this reflects the antagonistic culture in which John was written and to which Jesus speaks, promising the companionship of the Holy Spirit through it all.

Speaking of the Spirit, John 16 focuses on the coming of this Advocate, who will extend the teachings of Jesus throughout all the days ahead, leading beyond what Jesus told the disciples in his own day. (This is one inspiration for the UCC’s “God is still speaking” declaration.) I hadn’t noticed until this read-through of the gospels that although it’s the Luke-Acts tradition that describes Pentecost, John’s gospel actually carries the most about the Spirit. Joy and peace are further results to expect from the Spirit’s presence, but they don’t come immediately or automatically. Sorrow and pain will precede joy; disruption and scattering will come before peace. Nevertheless, all that is turbulent can be endured, by faith in Jesus who has “conquered the world”.

The time has arrived for Jesus to “be glorified”, which is John’s euphemism for being lifted up (on the cross), and coming to the climax of his life (in his death). As a final act of compassion, Jesus offers a tender prayer for the disciples. He gives thanks that the disciples have learned what he came to teach. Beyond this, the two emphases of his prayer are protection from evil, and the presence of unity among the disciples. (A line from 17:11, “that they may be one”, is a scriptural tag line for the *United* Church of Christ). The prayer for unity extends beyond just the disciples that Jesus knows, but also to those who will come to know faith after he has gone. Jesus is anticipating generations ahead, immediately before his arrest and torture in the very next chapter. This poignant moment reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech the day before his assassination, where he describes having been to the mountaintop with the people and trusting that they’ll get to the “promised land” even if he doesn’t see it with them. Dr. King was reflecting on Moses, but he might as well have been channeling Jesus in John. Happy reading!

Read John 15-17.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 18-19. Thanks for reading!

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