In John 9, a man who’s been healed by Jesus is interrogated by the Pharisees (since the healing happened on a sabbath). When the formerly blind man refuses to throw Jesus under the bus, he’s expelled from the synagogue community, which would mean the loss of many relationships and connections in his community. Jesus continually invites us to step into sacrifice, into oblivion with the faith that, when we do, we haven’t actually lost what we thought we would lose, and yet have gained – everything!
Between his various writings in the New Testament, John writes to a lot of rejects, a lot of people that are unwanted in other communities. The formerly blind man of John 9 is typical of the kind of people who come to Jesus after having been abandoned by everyone else. It is in the Christ-centered community where they finally find belonging.
And the language John uses to describe this new kind of community is not the language of an exclusive club, or of friends or coworkers, but the language of family. John, along with the whole New Testament, is clear: to be the Church is to be family. But this doesn’t mean that some switch gets flipped in the brain that makes everyone in the church light up with love and affection for each other. If only it were that simple. The New Testament is also clear that building this kind of community is really hard. We humans can take a good while to warm up to each other, to open up to and forgive each other.
So in 1 John 2:7-14, John places before the church the single most important commandment, simultaneously the oldest and newest one in the book – love one another. And don’t think for a second, John says, that just saying you love each other is going to cut it. To speak of love where love is actually absent is to exist in a state of darkness and blindness. (Isn’t it interesting how, in John’s writings, the themes of community and blindness always seems to be tangled up together?)
And then, with a little poem (verses 12-14), John gives the church its familial identity. The whole church is addressed as children and fathers. To be someone’s parent or child could be a bland, purely descriptive title, if biology is all that connects us. But in the Christ-centered community, to be someone’s parent or child suddenly means something very different. This is what you are to each other, says John, you are each other’s parents and children. Maybe family is something you lacked before you found your way to Jesus and to his church, or maybe you’ve never lacked it at all. Either way, to belong to Jesus, to be his followers, means that how we understand family and relationship now gets filtered through him.
Following Jesus is going to mean that all of our values and priorities and relationships get rearranged around him. That’s why John here defines fatherhood as knowing God the Father. In the Christ-centered community, “father” is not a title earned after you’ve sired a child, but an identity that arises out of intimacy with God the Father.
Belonging to Jesus means that we will rethink everything we thought we knew. Belonging is now a thing defined by Jesus and by no one else. In the Christ-centered community, to belong to each other is to belong to Jesus, and to belong to Jesus is to belong to each other. It may not come as naturally to us as we’d like, but to be the Church is to be called to embody for each other a radical love that will rearrange everything about us. Mothers and fathers will let their love and worship of God determine what it means for them to be mothers and fathers. If this doesn’t happen all at once, it just makes us like the New Testament church, working out the kinks as we go, but becoming a truly Christ-centered community, a place where we are free to step into oblivion, because we know who’s going to catch us.