Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A meditation: He loved them fully

One of the advantages of reading the Bible in different versions is that the familiar is made new. This results in verses you’ve read a “million” times suddenly reaching up off the page and slapping you aware.

I’ve been reading through John in the CEB (Common English Bible) version and hit verse 13:1: “Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.”

What struck me were the final four words: “he loved them fully.”

A common version of this sentiment that we might hear daily would be, “loved them a lot,” or “loved them loads,” or simply, “loved them very much.”

These all fall flat.

“He loved them fully,” has a certain mellifluousness about it. And I think the word “fully” brings a better image than does a lot or very much. It’s satisfying.

How does one love another fully? There’s a challenge, eh.

If you’re wondering, most other Bible versions render the phrase along the lines of “he loved them to the end.” One adds the footnote “completely or always.” One uses “to the highest degree.” And, of course, the Amplified version goes all out with “He loved them [and continuously loves them with His perfect love] to the end (eternally).”

The original Greek word behind all of this is telos. And as is usually the case, there are a range of related nuanced meanings behind it.

But even parsing out the technical definitions of the word doesn’t always get at its larger meaning. This is where context helps.

You start with the context of the chapter, then widen out to the whole book, then -- in this case -- all of the Gospels, then the New Testament, then the whole Bible. Then, finally, all you know about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Then you’ll maybe have a clue.

Yes, Jesus loved his disciples and the others he spent time with before his death “until the end” of that time. Meaning, until he was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. At least I’m assuming that’s what “until the end” may be getting at.

But given that in the context of eternity there is no “end” the phrase feels abrupt, even confusing when mulled.

“Completely” implies love is made up of pieces, like a puzzle, and once assembled that’s it. While I’ll admit there are aspects of love that are puzzling at times, this image also does not feel right. It doesn’t feel like enough nor does it feel very secure.

“Continuously” is good but again falls into a time conundrum just as does “until the end.” The question is “How long is continuously?” And it carries a subtle implication of a starting point that means love was absent before.

I think “he loved them fully” captures it best. It has no beginning or end. It has no specific quantity. You can’t say something like, “I’ll have two cups of ‘fully’ please!”

“Fully” just is. Just as God is “I Am.”

That’s how much Jesus loved his disciples. And how much he loves you and me.


Do you feel loved by God (which includes Jesus and the Holy Spirit)? Why or why not? Does “love them fully” seem a better translation than “loved them to the end”? Why or why not? What are some ways you express your love to another? How do others express love to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Image: Georges Rouault (1871–1958), Christ And The Apostles.

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