John 15:16-25 – On Facing Hatred

 The Face of the Savior by Noehani Harsono

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

“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 fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’” (New International Version)

In his earthly ministry, Jesus suffered on this earth. He was hated, persecuted, and killed. Although Christians readily recognize this, somehow we still seem surprised when, following Jesus, there are people who downright dislike us. 

Yet, Jesus clearly and unequivocally stated that we ought to expect persecution. Emotional, psychological, verbal, and even physical abuse can and does occur against God’s people who seek to follow the words and ways of Jesus. 

There was a time in the first few centuries of the church that becoming a martyr for one’s faith was welcomed. It was considered a privilege to imitate Christ in his suffering and death.  Even many modern day Christian martyrs around the globe have estimated martyrdom as an opportunity to experience solidarity with their Savior.

God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. (Philippians 1:29, CEB)

This kind of thinking may sound quite strange to Westerners who tend toward the notion that, if we do everything with excellence and effectiveness, then there will be no reason for persecution and suffering. 

However, the Christian reality is that Jesus promised his devout followers that there will indeed be those who seethe with hatred toward us. We are not above our Master. If he suffered, we will, as well.

So, the question is not whether we can or ought to avoid suffering. Rather, our consideration needs to be how we will respond to the inevitable persecution of verbal violence, physical violence, or both – not to mention the various forms of discrimination, abuse, and oppression we might face.

“They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?”

Martin Luther

First off, there is no honor for any Christian suffering because of one’s own stupidity or obnoxiousness. If we face persecution because we have initially made others suffer through our bullhorn presentations of the gospel, or metaphorically clubbing groups of people with oversized King James Version Bibles, then whatever consequences come are of our own making and have nothing to do with being united with Christ.

And second, paying no attention to the real human needs of people locked in poverty or dismissing the body as secondary to the soul is a gross misrepresentation of Christ – not to mention the sheer ignoring of multiple books in Holy Scripture which point to caring about such things.

If, however, we endure abuse because of being humble, merciful, gentle, pure in heart, and an unflinching peacemaker amid conflict, then we can enjoy the smile of heaven. If we communicate good news with grace and compassion, seeking love-laced words of truth, along with genuine acts of mercy – and then are repaid with unmerciful oppression from prideful persons – then we understand the type of hate Jesus faced.

We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope. (Romans 5:3-4, CEV)

The genuine article withstands the test of adversity. It doesn’t fall apart in the vigorous agitation of the first washing. People who oppose Christians with persecuting words and actions need to discover an authentic believer who is ready and willing to absorb the hatred, repackage it as love, and along with the gospel of grace, gift it back to the persecutors as an offering to God.

Experiencing the hatred of others is not the worst thing which could ever happen. Knowing Jesus better is of utmost value – even if, at times, comes through the worst of circumstances.

God, who shows you his kindness and who has called you through Christ Jesus to his eternal glory, will restore you, strengthen you, make you strong, and support you as you suffer for a little while. (1 Peter 5:10, GW)

Almighty God, thank you for sending your Son, the Lord Jesus, on my behalf.  Just as he suffered for me, I willingly suffer for him, since his infinite grace has delivered me from sin, death, and hell.  I only ask to be found faithful at the end of the age when he returns to judge the living and the dead.  Amen.

John 4:7-26 – Living Water

Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (New International Version)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by He Qi

Many years ago, I was the pastor of a small congregation north of Detroit, Michigan. Many of the people in the community viewed the big city as a place of disrepute. So, they avoided going into the heart of the great city as much as possible.

The locale of Samaria was viewed much the same way by many Jews back in Christ’s day. Samaritans were seen as untrustworthy, a mongrel people with a mix of Jewish and ancient Assyrian blood. And their religion was most suspect of all – an amalgam of Jewish and Gentile practices.

Jesus, however, didn’t avoid the territory. He confidently walked through Samaria and had no problem stopping to rest on his journey in a foreign area. That’s because Jesus didn’t class people into groups, nor did he attach adjectives to people, such as “those” Samaritans.

Jesus had no obstacles between himself and others.

Which is why an organic conversation happened between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Christ simply saw a human being who happened to be a woman and a Samaritan. He acknowledged both her gender and her ethnicity without those being a problem. Not even Christ’s knowledge of her string of husbands was a problem in conversing with her.

Every time I read this narrative of Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman, I wonder and use my imagination about all the non-verbal communication. I am sure the conversation was as much about Christ’s affect, gestures, and tone of voice, as it was his well placed words. I fully believe his verbal and non-verbal communication was perfectly congruent with each other, giving the woman a compelling sense that her ultimate needs could be met with the living well of a person in front of her.

Water gives life. And Jesus, as living water, gives new life. A bunch of failed relationships testified to the woman’s dissatisfaction. Even though we hear no more about her after this story in the Bible, we as readers get the overwhelming sense that the woman finally found satisfaction. The love which kept slipping through her fingers now had staying power.

I am sure the Samaritan woman discovered true worship, in spirit and in truth.

I still remember my first encounter, at least my first aware experience, with the living Christ. I am quite sure Jesus was near me for a long time, without me knowing his presence. Words will never truly capture the overwhelming sense of love, acceptance, mercy, kindness, and deep satisfaction – a contentment and gratification which has stuck with me now for decades.

Messiah, “Savior,” is an apt term for Jesus. He certainly saved me from myself. And Christ has never left me nor forsaken me – always there, always available, always loving with both tender love and tough love.

I’m glad that Jesus didn’t consider this earth like the city of Detroit – a place to avoid – but willingly came to encounter people like the Samaritan woman, and me. And this is the basis of true worship.

“Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say.” (John 7:38, CEV)

Lord Jesus, Son of God, Savior of humanity, there is a river flowing straight from your heart into mine — replenishing, renewing, sustaining. May you, as Living Water, be persistent in me, breaking through every barrier in its path. Send this hydro-power through the dark crevices of my heart like a mighty flood overcoming and pushing everything out of the way that blocks its path. I want my heart to be washed clean of any debris cluttering and blocking your life-giving flow. May your love overflow onto your people — your grace, your mercy — into the lives of those we encounter, to your glory and honor, in spirit, and in truth. Amen.

John 6:35-40 – The Bread of Life

I Am the Bread of Life by Joseph Matar

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own agenda but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything, and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.” (The Message)

Bread has always been a food staple throughout human history. Whereas many people today try and avoid bread because of either carbohydrates or gluten, a lack of bread in the ancient world usually meant people would starve to death. Bread is a big deal.

So, when Jesus gave a self-description as the Bread of Life, he was saying a lot.

The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break, when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:16, GNT)

After the Israelites were delivered by God from their bondage in Egypt, and found themselves in the desert without food, the divine provision of manna – a unique kind of bread – literally showed up on the desert floor every morning. It was just enough for everyone for that day. Once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the manna disappeared.

As Jesus entered fully into his earthly ministry, throngs of people began following him. At one point, the thousands of men, women, and children were together with nothing but a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. Much like the miraculous provision of manna which sustained their ancestors centuries earlier, Jesus multiplied the measly morsels of bread into enough to feed the entire bunch, with leftovers.

Little is much when God is in it. Just a smidgeon of Jesus is enough to fill a crowd of growling stomachs.

The Lord Jesus is not like a loaf of bread bought in a grocery store which has all kinds of funky additives, loaded up with sugars, and questionable ingredients you can’t even pronounce. Christ is fortified with everything we need to thrive and flourish. Jesus is so packed with good stuff that a seemingly paltry communion wafer is filling and satisfying.

The bread that comes down from heaven isn’t like what your ancestors ate. They died, but whoever eats this bread will live forever. (John 6:58, CEV)

Just as bread is a simple mixture of water and flour, so partaking of Jesus is rather uncomplicated. There aren’t hoops to jump through or lengthy recipes to follow. If we simply align ourselves with Christ, come to him and believe, we will never be hungry again.

The world needs bread. They ask for bread. In response, Jesus gave them himself.

Give us the bread we need for today. (Matthew 6:11, CEB)

All the world has to offer, and of which so many humans strive to obtain and accumulate treasures on earth, money and possessions, does not bring ultimate satisfaction. The drive for more is never satiated. Humanity is afflicted with boredom, dissatisfaction, anxiety, and worry over losing what they have and fretting about how they can obtain just one more thing in the misguided belief their fear will finally melt.

But it doesn’t. So, like a hamster running in a wheel and going nowhere, there is the constant activity of racing thoughts and workaholic behavior to try and somehow keep ahead. Yet, authentic rest never comes. The more the striving, the more the anxiety.

There is a divine/human responsibility and cooperative at work. Jesus will hold us secure. And we need to let him do it, and fully align our lives according to Christ’s words and ways. The divine bread is available. God isn’t going to force feed us. We will need to take and eat.

It requires faith to take and eat. We might wonder: Will I like it? Is it really going to satisfy me? What if I’m allergic to it? Do I need some other food handy to eat in case I gag or vomit? Will there be pie? Mac & cheese? Bacon? (insert your own comfort food) Do I have to eat alone?

Try it. You’ll like it.

My own experience of having tasted much of what the world has to offer, and tasting the good flavor of God’s grace, I can say that I never want to go back to the gruel of guilt and shame.

I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. And that is what I want for you, too.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8, NIV)

The bread is for me, and it is for you. There is plenty of bread for the life of everyone in the world. No rationing is necessary. This is the place of abundance.

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51, NKJV)

Almighty and everlasting God, I thank and praise you for feeding me with Jesus, the Bread of Life. Send your Holy Spirit so that I may by faith obtain and eternally enjoy your divine grace, the forgiveness of sins, unity with Christ, and everlasting life; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

John 4:31-38 – Real Food

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus, the saying ‘One sows, and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (New International Version)

Today’s Gospel narrative reads something like the stereotypical mother concerned for her son saying, “Sit down and eat some of Mama’s pasta. You need some food!” As if preparing and serving a meal will make everything better.

Food has both the power to bring us together, as well as separate us. A meal can create the conditions for fellowship, acceptance, and enjoyment. Eating can bond people together through hospitable love. On the other hand, sitting down to eat can also be a way to avoid painful emotions. In this manner, eating becomes an obstacle to giving and receiving love.

It seems Christ’s disciples were doing the latter. They were uncomfortable and perhaps a bit stressed. Looking to fill up with food instead of with God, the disciples’ sense of unfulfillment was coming out sideways by opening the refrigerator, poking through the meager leftovers, and putting the emphasis on feeling better.

I know we can be hard on the disciples in the Gospels. Their ups and downs from faith to fear and back to faith again can be weird. Yet, through it all, I believe their hearts (excepting Judas Iscariot) were in the right place.

Jesus could see through the entire scenario and put the focus off eating. He addressed the disciples’ soul hunger through putting the spotlight on doing the will of God. Deep within they were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

Paying attention to our vocation and discovering our humble work in the service of God, rather than a vacation to the pantry to cover our unwanted feelings, is the essence of Christ’s interaction with his disciples.

People are much more ready for the gospel of Jesus than we think. There are times we can become so insular, and lost within our own heads, that we are then unable to see the world as ripe for a harvest of people who are actually eager to be gathered into the community of the redeemed.

Jesus just had a significant interaction with the Samaritan woman. Back in that day, you just didn’t have dialogues with half-breed Samaritans – an unholy mix of Jewish and hated ancient Assyrian Gentile blood – let alone a man talking with a woman of disrepute who experienced several failed marriages.

Christ had a way of doing the will of God, despite conventional thinking of the time. And a lot of people got their undies in a bundle from it. The disciples, having a front seat to most of Christ’s shenanigans, did a few too many palms to the forehead, believing their Rabbi’s un-orthopraxis was going to make him unpopular. They feared no one would follow him.

Looks like the disciples didn’t quite get that one right.

The Samaritan woman received Jesus as Living Water, having her ultimate needs met by the penultimate Lord of all. The disciples hadn’t quite caught up to this, so fell back on their old ways of physical food and drink to assuage the weirdness happening inside them.

The woman was gushing over with Living Water, becoming a wellspring of good news to her community. Whereas the disciples (eventually becoming an incredible fountain of the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection) are here nothing but an annoying drip from the kitchen faucet.

A non-descript ethnically suspect woman of dubious character coming to faith was meant by Jesus to open the disciples’ eyes to a new reality: The good news of Christ is meant for the world, not just Jewish men.

The disciples were given the opportunity to participate in the world’s takeover – a mission of bringing the love of God where love wasn’t present, of helping all kinds of people awaken to the deep spirituality within them, of lifting their downcast faces of guilt and shame to see the Living God wanting to bless the world with the body and blood of Jesus.

For this is real food and real drink.

Many believers in Jesus today think they are working hard for the Lord by seeking people for their churches. Yet, the real work is being done by the triune God – the heavenly Father who scans the world and seeks spiritual misfits to bless; the gracious and truthful Son who put hands and feet to that blessing; and the wild Holy Spirit who moves in unpredictable ways – are working infinitely harder for our churches, our families, our neighborhoods, and our world.

All of our work, no matter how big or small, is made possible by the pre-work of the Holy Trinity. The great Three-in-One has done all the preparations of chopping the onions, mincing the garlic, slicing the carrots, and peeling the potatoes so that we, his followers, can make a savory stew of diverse people sharing a common pot of God’s love and hospitality.

This is the food we know nothing about, and that God knows intimately.

O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above painting: Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of the Last Supper