October 29, 2020
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”
Jesus spends the first seventeen verses of the fifteenth chapter talking about love. He devotes the rest of the chapter to talking about hate. I’ve always loved the first part of chapter 15, but never paid the least bit of attention to the rest of it. What’s going on here?
Jesus is raising the greatest challenge to love—rejection. The great strategy of hatred is to elicit a reciprocal response. The most sinister strategy of hate, however, is to elicit a preemptive response. Jesus knows the pain of rejection, and he wants to prevent our retaliating against rejection. Jesus also knows our nature and our natural tendency to want to defend ourselves. Even deeper, he knows our natural tendency to want to protect to ourselves from pain. We do this by preemptively rejecting anyone who we perceive may reject us. Not only is preemptive rejection at work in our interpersonal relationships, it lives at the very nerve of all prejudice. This is the essence of prejudice—the preemptive rejection (or prejudgment) of entire groups of people.
Instead of retaliation, or returning rejection for rejection, or worse, instead of prejudice, or preempting being rejected by rejecting first, Jesus gives us another approach. He shows us what love does in these instances.
First, Jesus tell us we can’t take hatred or rejection personally. It will feel deeply personal, but you can’t take it personally. Why? Because it is not about you, Jesus says. It’s about him. And the truth is, Jesus seems to say, it’s not about him. It’s about them. And at the deepest level, it’s not about them. It’s the world. They belong to the world. They didn’t choose the world. The world chose them.
Second, Jesus tells us what he does want us to take very personally—that he has chosen us.
As it is, you do not belong to the world, but he has chosen you out of the world.
If we can learn to take Jesus’ love personally, not only will we be able to respond to rejection with love, we will be empowered to love preemptively. Wow! At the heart of the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the preemptive love of God. In fact, the reason Jesus is able to love his enemies is because he loved them before they were enemies. Remember John 3:16? “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (italics mine).
Or how about Romans 5:8? “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The only way we will ever grow to become preemptive lovers is to grow in the understanding and experience that we are preemptively loved, which is to say: chosen.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who not only has chosen us, but who chooses us over and over and over again. Awaken us to our chosenness that our lives might become sources of awakening for others. Remind us not to take rejection personally. Come, Holy Spirit, and fill us with the preemptive love of Jesus. We pray in his name, amen.
1. Do you struggle with taking things too personally? Why do you think it is about you? Why might it not be about them?
2. What is your experience of preemptively rejecting other people? Do you tend toward this kind of self-protection? What would it mean to become more aware of this tendency in you?
3. What can you do today, right now, that might move you toward becoming a preemptive lover of other people?
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