John 17:6-19 (NRSV)
You Do Not Belong To The World.
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
It's funny how your experience of a particular passage in Scripture used incorrectly can lead you to neglect it. As I read this week's Gospel reading in the lectionary, I almost shuddered when I came to verse 14:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
I recoiled, not from what the verse says, but from what people have made it say. The way I consistently heard this verse applied when I started out in ministry went something like this:
- He has given us his word so, therefore, we have a monopoly on truth and are the arbiters of all that is right and wrong.
- The world has hated us because we are right.
- We do not belong to the world and, therefore, should not care about what happens to it or what happens in it (except for when we judge it from a distance obviously).
But I think this is a misreading of Jesus' intention, instruction and incarnation. When Jesus says he does not belong to the world, it didn't mean that he wasn't invested in it. He was birthed into it, embracing all that we suffer, experience and wrestle with. He cares about the world and the people in it. When he says 'world', I can't help but think he means the systems of the world or 'the way in which the world works'. He means the powers that rule it and the value systems that keep it running. It's this that Jesus says we do not belong to — not because we are disconnected from it but, rather, because being part of the Kingdom of God means being called to transcend it.
Which leads me to new questions: What does it mean to refuse to belong to the systems that are destructive in our world? What it does it mean to transcend what oppressive systems take for granted?
And this is hugely challenging. For example, the unchecked world in which we live at the moment creates hierarchies based on certain criteria. It turns things like fame, power and image into currency and pushes the famous, the powerful and beautiful to the top.
It also relegates the anonymous, the powerless and anyone who doesn't fit into society's idea of attractiveness to the bottom.
Throughout his life, Jesus sought to dismantle and destroy such hierarchies. He touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable and fought on behalf of the ignored, the excluded and those the world considered unacceptable.
Embracing Jesus' words means embracing those the world has taught me to avoid. The world needs me to play along in order to perpetuate these systems and for them to profit from the inequality.
And I really, really, really want that kind of world to hate me.
I want it to consider me its enemy.
I want it to tell me that I do not belong because I won't play along.
Jesus didn't belong to it either and the world killed him for it but, in doing so, it held up a mirror to its own brokenness and need for healing, hope and redemption. Redemption that came - ironically - through the selfless love and death of the one who did not belong.
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.