I John 3.11-21; Psalm 99; John 1.43-51
Jesus and his disciples often spoke in bold, dramatic contrasts and used exaggerated figures of speech for emphasis. He insists that a true disciple of his must “hate” his own father and mother [Luke 14.26] and teaches that anger is akin to murder, lustful thoughts tantamount to adultery. [Matthew 5.21-11; 27-28] He calls for tearing out offending eyes and amputating aberrant limbs [Matthew 5.29-30], commands which, if interpreted literalistically and obeyed punctiliously, would leave congregations of Christian people looking very different indeed.
The exaggerated speech is used to drive home the paramountcy of teachings that we might otherwise treat casually. St John picks up his Teacher’s point: “to hate your brother is to be a murderer” he insists. By brother, of course, he means not just siblings who share the same parents, but children of the same heavenly Father [John 1.12-13], disciples of the same Lord. [Matthew 12.50] The real and active love for a brother (or sister) whom we see makes possible our entrance into the presence of the unseen God. [I John 4.20] As the poet Laurence Housman (1865-1959) put it, “How can we love thee, holy, hidden being, if we love not the world which thou hast made? O give us brother love for better seeing thy Word-made-flesh and in a manger laid.”