This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any long, because the servant does not know what the master is doing: but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
At the end of his Gospel, John writes, ‘Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (Jn 20:30-31). In other words, John has written what he regards as fundamental to his story. So there are three essential points in this short reading. We (the disciples) are Jesus’s friends if we do what he commands; we did not choose him, but Jesus chose us; we are appointed to go and bear fruit that will last. Jesus’s friendship involves obedience. Jesus chooses us, not the other way round, as we so often suppose – encouraged by much late-19th century hymnody, e.g. ‘Who is on the Lord’s side’, ‘Once to every man and nation/comes the moment to decide’ etc. We are expected to bear lasting fruit. Here are three counter-cultural challenges in two verses. In today’s world we like to think we are in charge, but in baptism, whether as a child or an adult, we give ourselves up to others – as Jesus did on the night of his arrest – and thereafter we have surrendered ourselves to him. What more need we say?
May the God of all grace, who has called us to Christian faith and service, confirm and strengthen us with the Holy Spirit and keep us faithful to Christ all our days. Amen.
The Rev’d Professor David Thompson is a retired minister and a member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.