These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord… He that hateth me hateth my Father also. John 15:17-25
I want to say something about the word “hate” in this text, something about “the world,” something about the “me” in this text, something about the “you” in this text, as well as our Lord’s commandment that we should “love” one another because our disposition and action of “love” is modeled upon the life story of God himself. So lets get started.
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
The word we have translated as “hate” in this text means to detest or to despise. It does not mean to like someone less than one likes another person — not in this context. It means to truly loathe, to hate in the sense that our Lord forbids hatred because hatred breeds anger breeds murder — the very thing that was about come to pass in the life of our Lord as the rulers of the world rage together and plot to put him to death. But note that is the world that is enthralled by hatred, a future of hatred aimed at the disciples of Jesus, as well as hatred of Jesus and as he makes perfectly clear — hatred for Jesus is equivalent to hatred for his Father:
He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
As I said, note that it is the world who hates. But what does Jesus mean by “the world?” He told his disciples that the world will hate them because they are not of the world and in fact that if they were of the world then the world would love them. But he goes on to say that the hatred of the world for the Church is specifically because of the Church’s loyalty and fidelity to Jesus which is also loyalty and fidelity to Jesus’ Father:
If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.
But what is the “world?” What is this aggregate, this assemblage of people so ensnared, so saturated with hatred of Jesus and the Church? This is no isolated, one off use of the word “world” as an organized aggregate of hatred. St. Paul and the other apostles speak of the foolishness and weakness of the world, of condemning the world, and of a defilement that come from the world and of the necessity of dying to the world for our soul’s well being. But St. Paul and other apostles also spoke of the great value of the world: the world is promised to Abraham and his heirs as an inheritance in Jesus Christ. To this end Christ has come into the world — As Paul put it to the Romans:
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5:19
So what is the “world?” This discussion of the world probably reminds you of our discussions of the word “flesh” because in both cases we have a word that is used in radically different ways by our Lord and his apostles. Flesh is on the one hand a symbol of the transitory things in life, as well as the damage done through original and actual sin. Paul refers to the “weakness of flesh” and Christ coming in the “likeness of sinful flesh,” but it would be a mistake to conclude from that the Apostles believed our bodies are weak and sinful because of our physical, human nature. Our physical human nature is God given; and God affirmed his commitment to our physical, material bodies through the Incarnation, as well as affirming his solidarity to the material world through the bodily resurrection of his only Son and his promise to raise us bodily in the last day. What Paul is referring to, when he speaks of “sinful flesh,” is our present condition — the short-lived nature of the material world, as well as the corruptibility that humanity has brought upon itself and creation through actual sin. Humanity has brought this corruptibility upon the created order because creation’s destiny is tied to our destiny. Sin had come home to roost in this world and in our lives and it is sin that God condemned upon the Cross of Christ, not matter, not flesh, not the body, not the corporeal:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh… Romans 8:3-4
Please note that God has brought judgment down upon sin not flesh, not his material creation which I submit to you is manifested in flesh and in what Jesus and his apostles are calling the “world.” It seems to me that this was perfectly understood by people in antiquity: there are two ways in which Jesus and his apostles understand the meaning of the word, “world.” The world is the material realm in which people live and form ways of life in language, families, tribes, and nations of a short duration. The world, in the most negative sense from Jesus’ point-of-view, is an aggregate of people who form a culture of families, tribes, and nations as atheists and by atheistic I mean specifically those who do not believe in Jesus which, as far is Jesus is concerned, is equivalent to not believing in his Father and the Blessed Trinity. These are they who Christ and his Apostles describe as “haters of God.” These are they who build a way of life in language, families, tribes, and nations with the assumption that the material world of short duration and corruptible is the only really real. That kind of world would be like the light that we see in the evening sky that has been orphaned. Such starlight is all that is left of a burned out sun and though it appears to be bright and powerful it is hopeless and certain to die and disappear. But these are they whom Jesus loves as he said to Nicodemus:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3: 16-17
This brings us to the pronoun “you.” That pronoun is Jesus’ address to his Apostles, his little band in the upper room, as well the Church of God built upon the Apostles’. Though the world hates Christ and the Church, the Church is not guided by the values of this dying world, but by the values of the living Christ. Furthermore, we are called to live in that world and to be true disciples of Christ in that world, and by his grace, to reconcile that world to God through Christ. What is unavoidable for Catholics is that the world will identify you as unfriendly and unwholesome to the culture of the world:
But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
No one enjoys being perceived as unwholesome and corrupting, and who wants to live in an environment in which one’s cardinal, most essential self-understanding is taken to be hostile to the culture itself? This brings us to the pronoun “me” in this text, which pronoun is our Lord’s reference to himself: “He that hateth me hateth my Father.” According to Christ his very presence in Israel, his coming, his teaching, his works, his being, brought judgment to the aggregate of power in Jerusalem and if we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and live for Jesus, we can expect the same treatment. How then do we live in this world?
The question is not how are we to survive in such a world because survival is not our goal in life! Survival! Seriously? What a feeble, faithless, and spineless way to live! The lure of survival or a favorable outcome did not propel Jude Thaddeus through Syria, Mesopotamia, Libya, to preach the Gospel of Christ. And when he was axed to death, in Beirut, along with St. Simon, they were not hoping for a favorable outcome to life. Jude’s future, Simon’s future, our future is not the hands of the powers of this world. Our future is in hands of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe in Jesus and thus we wish to live as Jesus lived — a life of self-sacrificing love, not a life of faint-hearted success. The question for the Church and for us individually, is how may we live faithfully in this world that Jesus loves, a world that believes the Church is unwholesome and corrupting? How do we love this world with the love of Jesus?
Another question just as important to the Church is how do we not permit a fearful world enthralled by its own puny survival, besotted with faint-hearted success, and full of agitation and animated by hate — how do we not permit that world to form us through fear, intimidation and violence? The simple, truthful answer is to believe Jesus and his Apostles and to live and behave as Jesus has taught us to live, not as slaves to a dying, decaying culture, but as fellow-citizens of the ever-new, eternal and vernal freshness of City of God:
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with he saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus christ himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord…