by Angela T. Khabeb

John’s Gospel is probably my favorite of all the Gospels. Several narratives that are unique to John’s Gospel have deeply impacted my faith journey. Under the cover of night, I’ve ventured with Nicodemus to get a closer glimpse of the radical rabbi named Jesus. Carrying a fistful of stones, I’ve readied myself to deliver righteous judgment on the woman caught in the act, only to find myself releasing the rocks and grabbing hold of God’s generous grace. I, too, came to the well and drank the living water with our nameless sister from Samaria. When Lazarus died, I wept with Mary and Martha. Later, I rejoiced when Jesus resurrected him. Dipping my own dirty feet into a basin of water, I, too, received a new commandment from Jesus: that we love one another. There are other inspirational Johannine narratives. But I most often look to the illustration of the Beloved Community.

John, the fourth evangelist, clearly states the purpose of his writings: “…these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Based on this, daily I ask myself: “What is this life that Jesus promises us?” “How do I live it?” “What does it look like?” Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus, our Savior, shakes up the status quo. Jesus constantly challenges societal expectations. Jesus repeatedly broadens the center so that those on the margins of society will be included. He routinely upsets and offends the religious leaders of his day. He is scandalous, known for healing on the Sabbath, speaking to Gentile women, touching lepers, dealing with pagans, eating with sinners, and speaking hard truths to those with power and influence. Jesus causes so much political upheaval that he receives the death penalty.

John’s Gospel reveals Jesus, the revolutionary Redeemer, as the Messiah for all people, marked by an uncompromising desire for unity in the Beloved Community. Jesus mandates love as the foundation for all relationships. Even as he stares down death—and not just any death, but the brutality of crucifixion—Jesus takes the time to share with us a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that
you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). It’s overwhelming to consider how, even in Jesus’ final hours, he was so deeply concerned for others. If I had less than a day to live, I wonder what would most concern me? As we later learn, in these last moments Jesus even changes his relationship with his disciples. “I do not call you servants any longer,” he tells them. “…but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

John’s Gospel continually reminds us that Jesus promises abundant, full life. Yet living in community can prove to be both a gift and a challenge. For example, I remember speaking with a parishioner with whom I had very little in common. The one thing we had in common was our faith. During one especially tense
conversation, I realized that he reached his viewpoints faithfully, through prayerful discernment— just as I did. And so although we did not agree, I did more than the old adage, “agree to disagree.” I loved him as a sibling in Christ. I respected him as part of God’s good creation. I moved beyond tolerating him. I began to accept him. That doesn’t mean that we ignored our differences. What it means is that the same love Jesus
calls us to give also offers us the strength to remain committed to the unity of the Beloved Community, even when it is difficult and even when it is messy.

The Rev. Angela T. Khabebis a pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. She has an amazing husband, Benhi, and three spectacular children, Konami, Khenna and Khonni.

This article is excerpted from the March 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.