Advent Friendship Reflection, Day 16

Scholars of the Fourth Gospel often point to the dualism that is expressed in it. In John, we find a stark contrast between children of the light, and those of the world who reject the light. Throughout the narrative, we find stories that emphasize that you either get it, and accept Jesus, or, for whatever reasons, reject Jesus. As the Gospel comes to a close, Jesus gathers his closest disciples and offers a long testimony that is directed not only at them, but likely also at the author's community, and many generations of those that follow. With the dualistic motifs of light/darkness, acceptance/rejection, God/world, etc. the Fourth Gospel presents a clear delineation between the in group of those who understand and accept Jesus as the Incarnate Word, and out group of those who will continue to misunderstand and reject him. The language of friendship, as we discussed yesterday, creates very much an in group. Unfortunately for the intended audience of the Fourth Gospel, this clearly also meant there was an out group of people whom they were to reject and judge. When Jesus says in 15:15 that he no longer calls his disciples slaves, but his friends, he is signaling that the grid in his community is to be flattened. There is to be no hierarchy. All are equal. All are friends. At the same time, the formation of such a community necessarily creates an out group, those who are  o be excluded from this close friendship.

I find it deeply troubling and unfortunate that easy and surface readings of this dynamic in the Fourth Gospel create Christian communities that are at best cliquish, and at worst, mean, exclusionary, and violently judgmental. It makes me wonder what kind of trauma, judgment, and exclusion the members of John's community must have experienced, that they sought and apparently found comfort in a Gospel that held up their tight bond as the gold standard, and excluding all others.

When you look at your communities and friendships, do the structures, practices, and unspoken worldviews of your bonds necessarily exclude others? Is authentic human community even possible without judgment and exclusion? 

Each day of advent, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, I plan to post a few thoughts on an aspect of friendship I learned while writing my book, Virtuous Friendship: The New Testament, Greco-Roman Friendship Language, and Contemporary Community, available on Amazon through this link. This will be a chance for me to share with you all a little bit from what I learned, while giving you, hopefully, a chance to take a deep breath during this busy season and do some reflection. Also, you won't have to secure another resource for Advent. I realize that you are all at many different places with regard to faith and belief, so use these reflections however you see fit. If you'd be interested in having me come speak at your church, lead a Bible Study, or even just Zoom or Skype in for a Q&A with a Sunday School class or other small group, let me know: doug.hume@pfeiffer.edu.

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