Most people don’t re-read books. If you’ve read a book once, you rarely go and do it again. Unless it’s a classic, like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or something of that quality, we rarely tread the same ground. On the other hand, we’ll see the same movie countless times. The books that changed our lives, even the good ones, are usually a one-time encounter. It’s not as if the endings change. If you read Moby Dick for a second time Captain Ahab and the whale don’t suddenly become friends. However, I do know Russians that are continually reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They are plowing through, a page or two a night, of some of the longest novels ever written. They do this year after year. Do you know why they do this? It snows a lot over there.
Here’s my point: I never re-read John Grisham. I re-read the Bible. I come back to these words day in and day out. If I’ve read them hundreds of times before, it doesn’t matter. I will read them again. All the rules of re-reading books are null and void when it comes to the Bible. The ending may not change. We change. How we hear and receive the stories evolve over time. No two encounters with the Bible are ever the same. So yes, when you read the Bible, it’s as if the whale and Captain Ahab can become friends. Some days you’re Ahab and other days you’re the whale. That’s how life works. That’s how the Bible works.
One of the passages I’ve returned to, whether by assignment or curiosity, is John 15. This is the IKEA furniture assembly instructions of the Gospels. On the surface, it appears so simple. The words look easy to understand and follow. I should be able to get this and reproduce the instructions exactly as follows. Do this, say this, stand here, and the finished product should be Christ like excellence. I’m here to tell you it’s hard. It’s never as easy as it looks.
My first observation is this: how does a carpenter know so much about love? Each time I return to this passage, I marvel at the depth of his knowledge and wisdom. How should I put this? He uses words sparingly, meaningfully, like a carpenter choosing from a small supply of wood. The finished product is designed somewhere in his mind. We only witness the individual pieces of being cut, formed, and shaped. Each new piece, in and of itself, is a work of art. Each begins to connect to the other in such a way that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine a time when these two pieces of wood were not united to form part of the larger whole.
Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, says “I too have loved you”. Jesus loves us, this we know. Do we? Is it possible that we can understand the depth of love the carpenter from Nazareth hold for us? Even as it on display and crafted by hands; do we see and understand what we claim to know?
What keeps us from knowing Jesus’ love? Why do we say “this we know” but actually don’t believe him?
We live in a sometimes depressing world that pushes our self-esteem in the gutter. Whether we realize it or not, our self worth is attached to the way others respond to our existence on social media. Jesus’ love doesn’t equate to money in the bank. We’re condition to think that real love is somehow tied to real money. We, like countless country songs tell us, look for love in all the wrong places. The list could go on and on. The point is this: we don’t believe that Jesus loves us because we allow the world to make a convincing case for not believing Jesus. Once the joy’s been removed from your life, the cynicism creeps in and you’ll believe anything but the simple truth of the Gospel: Jesus loves you.
Jesus goes on to say, “I love you” because he wants us know joy. He links knowledge of his love to a realization of joy. The two dovetail together like the corners of a cabinet. Jesus wants us to be joyful. Joy is the antidote to the cynicism which works destroys the simple craftsmanship of Jesus’ love.
Jesus loves us and we are to love each other. Jesus’ love is a reflective experience. Love leads to a joy that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Jesus’ love is lived and shared with others. When we go to an art museum, we stand before a great work of art. Looking at a painting is an intensely personal experience. What’s happening, at that moment, is between you and the artist. It’s not that way with the carpenter.
Jesus’ love fosters a sense of joy that is simultaneously personal and communal. We cannot be in relationship with Jesus without also being joyfully engaged in the lives of others. If both aren’t present, we’re not in loving relationships, either with Jesus or those around us. Isolationism, narcissism, and artistic dead ends will not be found in his craftsmanship. If you can only see yourself in Jesus’ work then something is wrong. This is my commandment, he says, “Love each other as I have loved you”.
Richard Lowell Bryant