A Pepper Grinder Post

Politics vs. Relationship

As I write this post, the 2012 US Presidential election is still fairly fresh in my mind, and America is gearing up for the next round in 2016. There are many things that I find distasteful about modern American politics, but one of the things I dislike the most is the way campaigns have become more about public relations than about clear, honest presentations of the views of the candidates. In the wake of the 2012 election, I heard much speculation about why Obama won and Romney lost, but one thing that was interesting to me in this light was the idea that Hurricane Sandy hurt Romney's campaign. The thinking is that a natural disaster like a hurricane puts the spotlight on the President and off his challenger. With both candidates trying to get as much positive attention as possible for as long as possible, this gave Obama a distinct edge in the last crucial week of the campaign.

peacockThis trend is even more striking when you look at some celebrities. Often it seems that ANY attention is good attention. It doesn't appear to matter if a singer is in the spotlight for releasing an excellent new album, or for being in the midst of a nasty divorce, or for appearing on stage dressed only in raw meat--the important thing is that people are talking about YOU.

Contrast this with Jesus's thinking in John 14:22-24 (my translation):

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, why you are planning to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus answered, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. If anyone does not love me, he will not keep my words--and the word which you have heard is not mine but the father's, who sent me."

I feel sorry for this disciple. It would be tough to be the OTHER Judas amongst Jesus's twelve disciples. Sort of like if you were named Adolf Hitler and people would introduce you by saying, "This is Adolf Hitler--but not the one responsible for the Holocaust." Although Judas has very strong connotations for us now, it was a common name at the time. One of Jesus's brothers was also named Judas. The Judas in our passage is probably the same disciple as the Judas son of James mentioned in Luke 6:16. It is possible he also went by the name of Thaddaeus, since the list of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10 matches the one in Luke 6, except that Matthew lists Thaddaeus instead of Judas son of James.

In any case, there is a specific reason he is asking this question. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his imminent death, resurrection, and ascension. He knows they will go through very difficult times, and he wants their trust in him to be rock solid. It is in this chapter that he told them that HE, not a building or list of rules, is the way to the Father. He knows that the idea of him dying is something the disciples find very difficult to accept, both for emotional reasons and because of the teaching they have received about the Messiah. So, in verse 19, he has said, "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me."

You can picture Judas wrestling with this. He had always heard that when the Messiah came, he would rule over Israel and lead her to victory against all her enemies. Now Jesus is saying that in a short while no one but the disciples will see Jesus. Why on earth wouldn't Jesus reveal himself to the world, since he is on his way to becoming the most powerful king that ever reigned on earth? I suspect that Judas knew instinctively what modern political advisors treat as a fact--to become a popular ruler, you must be visible. What is going on here? Why wouldn't Jesus want this?

Partly, we know in hindsight that Jesus's knowledge of how the Messiah would rule was radically different than the standard Jewish notion of that time. But it goes farther than that. The answer is found in one of those seemingly odd answers Jesus often gives--the kind which seems to be ignoring the question. He says, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. If anyone does not love me, he will not keep my words--and the word which you have heard is not mine but the father's, who sent me."

puppiesJudas is talking about politics, but Jesus is talking about a relationship. Judas is thinking about public relations, and Jesus is thinking about the people he loves. He doesn't directly answer Judas's question because the assumptions behind the question are wrong. Jesus's goal was not to become a ruler, but to bring his chosen ones into an intimate relationship with God. This is not to say that Jesus is not a ruler. On the contrary, he was and is the King of Kings, and no human accolades would have made that any more or less true.

Jesus lays out the answer he does give in a format of if this, then that and that and that. I want to look at what he says piece by piece.

***** If anyone loves me...

He uses the word agapao (ah-gah-pah-oh) for "love" here, which is the verbal form of agape (ah-gah-pay). Perhaps what most sets this type of love apart from other Greek words for "love" used in the New Testament is the element of will. You cannot command a man and woman to feel attracted to and in love with each other. You cannot command someone to feel friendly feelings and affection toward someone else. Yet, we are commanded to love (agapao) each other as God has loved us. Agape love is not devoid of feeling, but it includes a kind of commitment and self-giving that is unique. So the "if" that Jesus presents is not an ungovernable emotion, but a conscious decision to love Jesus.

***** he will keep my word...

The first thing I want to point out about this is that Jesus does not say, "he MUST keep my word," or "he'd BETTER keep my word." Being a guilt-driven type myself, this is how I naturally tend to read it. You'd better do what I say, or else! No, he presents this as the natural outgrowth of love. To me, this says that if we find ourselves doing things we know God doesn't want us to do, the solution is not to find a bigger guilt hammer, but to ask God to revitalize our relationship with him and then look for ways to participate in the process.

sun and cloudsAnother important question to ask, is what it means to "keep my word." At first, I was going to just translate this passage, "obey my word," because I generally try to use words and phrases in my translation that sound like the way people actually talk. However, after studying how the Greek word (tereo [tay-reh-oh] for you Greek geeks) is used, I changed my mind and went back to the slightly more unusual but more literal phrase. Many times where this word is used, it could easily be translated simply as obey. I started to see a subtle difference, however, when I looked at Matthew 23:3, where Jesus teaches that people should do what the Pharisees say, but NOT what they do. He literally says, "Everything that they say to you, do and keep." This made me start to wonder how doing was different than keeping.

My conclusion is that keeping involves obedience, but it also involves, just as the word implies, holding onto something. The difference, as I see it, is that if we are commanded to obey, and we disobey one time, we have failed to obey. If we are keeping God's word, disobedience is still a bad thing, but there is a huge difference between slipping, falling, and getting back up and rejecting his word. I am sorry to say that I have been close to people who have been (at least to all appearances) serious followers of Christ, but who made a deliberate decision to stop following him. They were not just disobeying the commands of Jesus, they were consciously turning their backs on them.

I absolutely think that if we find ourselves doing what we know is displeasing to Jesus, we need to turn away from it and ask God to pull us closer to him. However, I do not think that we need to be filled with fear that we have left the straight and narrow way. If you have done something wrong and you wish you hadn't and you want to follow God, I believe you have not stopped keeping his word. Is absolute obedience better? Of course. But keeping his word is more than just obeying it.

Think of the prodigal son coming home. As long as he keeps walking toward home, he will reach it. He may arrive dirty and hungry and ashamed, but he will arrive, and he will be embraced. The only way he could not arrive home is if he fell and decided not to get up, or if he decided to give up trying to get home and followed an easier path instead.

*****we will come to him and make our home with him

houseIn most contracts, it talks about what both "parties" will do.

The party of the first part (hereafter referred to as ‘Bonzo') agrees to do blah blah blah. The party of the second part, (hereafter referred to as ‘Gizmo') agrees to do such and such.

In the same way, this passage doesn't just talk about what we will do (love Jesus and keep his word), but what Jesus and his Father will do. They will come and make their home with us. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus said he would not leave us as orphans, but that he would come to us, and he is now saying the same thing in different words. This is also part of the same chain of events that is kicked off when we choose to love Jesus: we will keep his word, and he and the Father will come to us and make their home with us.

This is what Jesus wants. He isn't running for President. He isn't trying to be famous. He wants to come and make his home with us and take care of us. Our part of the bargain is to love him and hold onto his word.


*Photo Credits: peacock by , puppies by