“This is my little world.” These words or similar words such as, “Welcome to my world,” are often uttered to describe our situation, our lives. While we are part of a much bigger world, our limited knowledge of the rest of the world tends to lead us to shrink the world down to our existence. This is why we often speak of travel to other countries as a broadening experience. My youngest brother is currently spending two weeks in India at the behest of his employer. He has been sending us daily e-mails detailing his experience. His world has definitely gotten much bigger because of the experience.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about how the “world” has hated him and how it will also “hate” his disciples. How are we to read this statement?
First of all, let us look at the word “hate.” For those of us in the Western world, the word hate carries with it a tremendous emotional content just as its opposite, love, carries emotional content. It is impossible for us to disassociate the word from our emotional reactions. For the people of the Middle East, that is not the case. To better understand how they hear the words “hate” and “love,” we would be well advised to substitute the words “avoid” and “cling.” Listen to Jesus’ statement now: “If the world avoids you, realize that it avoided me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would cling to you; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world avoids you.” (Paraphrase of John 15:18-19) Much less emotional, isn’t it!”
Now let us look at the word “world.” As I pointed out in the beginning, we have some experience in using this world in a similar way to Jesus. The first chapter of St. John’s Gospel states: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.” (John 1:9-12) Whenever St. John uses the word “world,” we should reference this statement. The “world” is “his own people.”
Now let us look at the statement from today’s Gospel again using this understanding of the word world as well as the Middle Eastern notion of love and hate. “If our own people avoid you, realize that they avoided me first. If you belonged to this people, they would cling to you; but because you do not belong to this people, and I have chosen you out of this people, our own people avoid you.”
In the context of St. John’s Gospel, written after the Jewish synagogues had started to expel Christians from their midst, the statement takes on a whole new meaning. The Gospel was written in Greek. Translating the language takes great skill. Translating it with an understanding the connotations of the vocabulary takes even greater skill.
Jesus has chosen us from out of the cultural reality of Israel to form a new people, a people which eventually took the name of Christian. We have been changed by our association with Jesus. We have died with him and risen to new life with him. We believe that he is God in the flesh, our Savior, our Messiah. Our faith brings with it the consequence of no longer being part of the old reality. We have been changed.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator