“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; also believe in me.” (John 14:1, NRSVue)
The gospel writer, John, records Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples in chapters 14-17 of his narrative of Jesus’ life. These were Jesus’ final instructions to his followers, hoping they would retain his teachings, preparing them to continue his ministry following his crucifixion and resurrection. I’m sure much of what Jesus said made no sense to them—at least until after his resurrection. Then, as they reflected on his last lessons, his words took on new meaning. Hopefully, remembering his words calmed their troubled hearts.
In John 14:1, the verse above, our English translations say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Angela N. Parker, an Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, notes:
“The word for ‘hearts’ is in the singular form. So, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Let not your (plural) heart (singular) be troubled.’ I have never noticed that Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of John highlights the idea of the disciples possessing one singular heart as a collective group of people.”
Until I read Dr. Parker’s analysis of this text, I, too, failed to notice the linguistic distinction between the Greek text and the English translation; however, her point has a tremendous impact on the meaning and application of Jesus’ words. In the verses following this, Jesus talks about how he is going to a place, presumably heaven, filled with room for everyone (i.e., many dwelling places). We tend to think of these as physical dwellings; however, what if Jesus meant multiple theological abodes (i.e., Wesleyan/Arminian, Calvinist, or Eastern Orthodox) or ideological starting points (i.e., conservative, moderate, or progressive)? If all who follow Jesus are of “one” heart, we can be “at home” with others with different theological or ideological positions and still exist as the Body of Christ. Methodism has always been a place of theological diversity tempered by practical piety. We value collaboration over uniformity, and we choose accountability and dialogue to develop unity and grow in God’s grace.
One of my greatest hopes for us as a congregation is to develop a more profound respect for one another that allows each other’s beliefs and practices to shape us without feeling threatened by them. I wonder if John 14 is Jesus’ way of saying there is room for all of us in the Kingdom of God despite our differences.
Matthew, the Tax Collector, and Simon, the Zealot, were deeply committed disciples of Jesus Christ, representing two divergent views of living in the Kingdom of God. Matthew acquiesced to the Roman Empire, essentially selling out, while Simon vowed to give up his life to defeat it. Jesus chose both to be among his closest students. I’m 100% certain that they often saw the world differently, and I’m relatively sure that there were times when they didn’t like each other very much. In John 17, I wonder if Jesus had Matthew and Simon specifically in mind when he prayed for the unity of his disciples. Remember in John 17:20-23 that Jesus said the world would know that he came from the Father through the unity of his disciples—not through their uniformity—but through their shared purpose of drawing people to God through a loving community. That is a time-tested formula for church growth.
We are a diverse group of people trying to love God and one another as best we can. We may not always get it right, but we must keep trying! Think of someone you could invite to join us in worship this week and offer to bring them to church with you. See you on Sunday!