Göttinger Predigten im Internet
ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch

PENTECOST 24 (October 30, 2005)
A Sermon based on John 15, 18-21 by Bruce E. Shields
(->current sermons )

18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (*)

There’s too much hatred in the world. Well, that’s rather obvious, don’t you think? We hear such statements almost daily, but the terror goes on. People kill each other; they beat each other; and in more genteel societies they (or is it we) ignore each other. We Christians look to the Bible for help, and what do we find in today’s text? A teaching on hatred!

Nobody wants to be hated, so why is Jesus talking to his disciples about hatred? We thought he was to be the Prince of Peace, who came from the God who is love. Here he is saying things like, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” This isn’t the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” that we expect on the pages of John’s gospel. Meek and mild living does not get anybody hated. Only radical, “in your face” living and speaking gets that kind of reaction.

We want everybody to like us. But Jesus indicates here that everybody liking us might just be a sign that we belong to the world instead of to God’s people. His disciples, Jesus says, “do not belong to the world.” Is the key to this riddle the time element? The first generations of Christ-followers did suffer persecution. Has the world grown to love us, or at least to accept us, since those early years? Perhaps it has in some parts of the world; but there are other places where active hatred of Christ-followers remains the mood of the times. But not in Europe or America, you say. Here we are free to practice our religion without fear of hatred.

But notice that Jesus didn’t say the world will hate his followers because of their religion, but because of their relationship with him. Another religion in the Roman Empire would not have caused much of a stir. There were religions galore. Pagan temples dotted the landscape in the cities, and their local shrines were visible nearly everywhere. Eastern Mystery Religions were flourishing in most large cities, especially in the port cities. The trade guilds and other civic organizations had their own religious rituals. Oh, no; religions were plentiful, and one more would not have bothered anybody.

So, what was it? Why this hatred? Was it something they did in public that aroused the scorn of the people? They fed the hungry. They comforted the sick and dying. They took care of orphans and widows. They paid their taxes. They were model citizens. It couldn’t have been anything they did in the public arena that produced hatred. In fact, such acts of human kindness aroused great admiration. What then?

It was Jesus himself. He was the problem. He was the object of hatred. This Prince of Peace, who wouldn’t bruise a bent reed. They hated him. Why? Because he wasn’t satisfied with being another teacher of religion or another prophet with a message from God or even another leader trying to free his people from the dominance of Rome. He claimed such a close relationship with God that his followers worshiped him as divine. He claimed that he was more than just another way to God—that he was, rather, THE way. And he called his disciples to the same kind of in-your-face exclusive claims that he made. In other words, he called them “out of the world.”

And some of them actually took him seriously. Peter was to stand up a few weeks later and say, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That will get you hated. The world thinks it has the answers. The world we live in believes in tolerance as one of its highest virtues. “Live and let live,” we say.

(*) The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version . 1989 . Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville

Bruce E. Shields
Blowers Professor of Christian Ministries Emmanuel School of Religion
One Walker Drive Johnson City, TN 37601