Last Sunday I reflected upon these three images that appeared in the scriptures of the day. I’m still chewing on some of it; maybe you have some ponderings of your own….
The image of being a “child of God” is not unfamiliar in the church or in society at large. It’s a way of affirming the intrinsic value of each person regardless of their biology, their history, or even their own choices. It’s also a way of affirming our relatedness one to another (like it or not!). To deepen the image, remember that Jesus’ welcome of the children as children was a countercultural move. In ancient times, children were to be household helpers, old-age insurance, one’s living legacy after death, and always to do their parents proud, even more so than today. But scripture gives us a tender, intimate understanding of being children of God. Cross your arms over your chest and imagine how it feels to hold a little one close….
In the household of God, children are commanded to love one another. Easier said than done! And how to you command love anyway? But then again, we are made for love. In other words, loving isn’t negotiable. There’s no other way to experience and live being “children of God” unless we practice love. And like all children, as we grow up, we reach out further and further, loving not just in the family but beyond, to those unlike us, eventually (another one of those commandments!) to our enemies, if we’ll try. That’s how we enlarge the family circle.
“Servant” is probably the metaphor most believers are most familiar with, in scripture and prayers and hymns. Most ethical people of any tradition feel the pull toward serving others. This can be tricky language, especially in a culture with a history of slavery and an ongoing legacy of abuse. It helps to remember that we all serve something, even if we think we’re serving ourselves. We’re serving the god of pride, perhaps, or of attractiveness; perhaps the god of financial security, or emotional safety, or uncommitted freedom. We are already servants; the question is of whom or what, and to what end? It also helps to remember Jesus’ example of washing his disciples’ feet, an action taken on freely and offered as an example of how to tend others and identify with those whose lot is lowly. Faithful servanthood isn’t abasement; it is holy recognition of our faithfulness and our love.
Later that same evening, after washing disciples’ feet, Jesus changes the metaphor: “I’m no longer calling you servants, because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends, because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the One in charge, from God.” It’s one thing to work for someone, to give a certain allegiance. It’s another to be brought into the inner circle. Think about it: Is Alfred just Bruce Wayne’s butler, or is he more truly Batman’s trustworthy friend? Okay, more seriously: Maybe you don’t feel so empowered with all the information! But what if we are? What if we really do know all we need to know? Jesus has astonishing faith in us, to call us friends.
For those whose faith is more enlivened by intellectual questions and study, the friendship image may seem superfluous. For those who have been deeply hurt by broken relationships, it’s a scary proposition. For all of us, here are a couple of Jesus’ own suggestions for cultivating a mature, deep friendship: One, “abide” in him and his love. Just be, in holy love. Breathe it in with every breath; soak it up like sunshine, like a warm bath. Drink it in like cold water on a hot day. Savor it like rich chocolate melting on your tongue. Abide. And two, “love each other.” Again, not optional, but a commandment; it’s what it takes to deepen in holy love, so we don’t stay stuck in our own heads or in a private little friendship. Mature love always spills outward; it’s cultivated in the same way.
Child. Servant. Friend. Which one resonates for you at this time in your life? Which one do you want to explore further, or cultivate more?
(scripture references for this blog: The Gospel According to John, chapter 15, verses 9-17, and The First Letter of John, chapter 5, verses 1-6.)
~ Jennifer Amy-Dressler, Intentional Interim Pastor