Home Alone? Reflections on John 14:23-29

by Alyce McKenzie

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with (abide with) them” (Jn. 14:23).

Biblical scholar Andre Brower Latz points out that “abide” (“make our home with”) is John’s “preferred and primary” way to characterize discipleship. This abiding is based on the relationship between Jesus and the Spirit and the Father.

This verse from the Gospel of John describes how we are to prepare our homes to host a guest who is going to take up residence within our lives: Jesus, in relationship with the Spirit and the Father. John indicates that the Spirit of truth is already present within the disciples. John tells us that we know him because he abides with us (Jn. 14:17). But at the same time, there is also a push to prepare for a future move-in date. We are charged with preparing for his taking up residence.

How do we prepare for Jesus to abide with or in us? By keeping Jesus’ commandments (14:15) and by loving Jesus, which inevitably and inextricably means keeping his word. We prepare for Jesus to abide in us by welcoming his gift of peace (14:27) and responding to his presence with faith in the absence of sight (14:18).

Abide (meno) and its cognates show up forty times in John’s Gospel. Abide signifies to stay, to remain, to dwell, to lodge, to last, to persist, and/or to continue. It can have negative associations. Wrath can abide (3:36); guilt can abide (9:41). And not abiding can have negative consequences (15:6).

Abide can have a literal meaning of staying in one place (4:40, 7:9, 10:40, 11:6, 54, 12:34, 14:25, 15:4-5). At the spiritual level, it describes what God does in our lives. God abides in Jesus and Jesus abides in God (14:10). Jesus abides in and with us (6:56). We cannot bear fruit unless Jesus abides in us (15:5). Jesus’ words abide (15:7). The Holy Spirit abides with Jesus (1:32-33). Therefore disciples abide with or in Jesus (8:31, 35, 12:46, 15:4-5, 7, 9-10).

How are you doing in the abiding department? What’s your hospitality quotient? Have you prepared your inner life to be a hospitable home for Jesus? One in which he will find faith and love and bountiful fruit?

When I think about welcoming guests, several scenes come to mind.

One is a time when I was an unwelcome guest. When my husband and I were first married we went to Washington, D.C. on a weekend to visit museums and sightsee. He had a friend from college who had recently married and encouraged us to come and stay with him and his new wife. When we got there he welcomed us and showed us to our room. And it quickly became clear to me that no preparations had been made. The bed had not been made, though clean sheets had been thrown in a pile in the center of the bed. The bathroom had not been cleaned (I won’t go into detail about how I could tell). I wanted to think it was just because she worked long hours, but when she came home from work it became clear from her curt treatment that this had been his invitation and not hers. They were talking in hushed tones in the kitchen, but I have unnaturally good hearing. “These are your friends. I do not have time for this. This was not my idea.” And so we sought out a hotel.

Another scene is one I’ve often lived out of wanting company to come, but just not right now. Frantically washing sheets and towels, mopping floors, sweeping the front porch, scrubbing out toilets, filling the grocery cart with food, etc. All the while thinking, “It’s not that I don’t want them to come, but could they wait a while until things settle down and I don’t have so much going on and have time to really prepare—to alphabetize my spices, get all the crumbs out of the utensil drawer, get the front door painted and replace all the burned out light bulbs and, and…”

Yet another scene reminds me of the times I’ve gotten ready with great excitement for company that didn’t arrive. Have you ever stocked the fridge with food, put up the decorations, cleaned the house, and sat and watched the clock for company that came late? Or that called to cancel?

Roman Catholic short story author and essayist Andre Du Bus (1936-1999) lost a leg and the use of the other in a 1986 accident. His writings reflect how he experienced despair, learned acceptance, and finally found joy in the sacramental magic of the most mundane tasks. In his book Meditations from a Movable Chair, he describes the Christmas Eve a few years after his accident. He was divorced from his wife and it was her year to have their daughters for Christmas Eve.

“The Christmas tree was in the living room, tall and full, and from the kitchen doorway, I could see in the front windows the reflection of the tree and its ornaments and lights. My young daughters’ Christmas stockings were hanging at the windows, but my girls were at their mother’s house, and would wake there Christmas morning, and would come to me in the afternoon. I was a crippled father in an empty house.” What would it be like to have lovingly prepared a place for guests who fail to show up?

Several truths come home for me in meditating on this one poignant verse in its broader context.

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn. 14:23).

We will never be unwelcome guests in the household of God. God calls us to abide in him.

We are to make time and space now to welcome Jesus in his relationship to the Father and the Spirit into our lives. Welcoming Jesus to abide in us as we abide in him is “the primary and preferred way John describes discipleship” and it is the “primary and preferred” priority of our lives.

We are to welcome other people to abide in our lives and homes in the guest rooms, the spaces that Jesus inspires and empowers us to provide.

Our lives may contain disappointments and people may let us down, but we can pledge not to leave God alone in an empty house that God has prepared for our abiding.

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn. 14:23).

Sources Consulted

Andre Brower Latz, “A Short Note Toward a Theology of Abiding in John’s Gospel,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 4.1 (2010) 111-118.


Alyce McKenzie CONTRIBUTOR

The Rev. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology. Ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church in 1981, Dr. McKenzie is a member of the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She grew up in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, and experienced a call to ministry in high school. She majored in religion at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia and then headed to Duke Divinity School to study for the ministry.

Dr. McKenzie is a frequently featured preacher, Bible study leader and teacher at workshops, conferences, and worship services around the country. She and her husband Murry live in Allen, Texas where they are active in the life of First United Methodist Church of Allen. The McKenzies enjoy traveling, movies, music, and spending time with friends and family. They have 3 children, Melissa, Rebecca and Matt. Dr. M. is an avid fan of mystery novels, a student of yoga, and an accomplished baker.

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