Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17
One of my favorite passages in all of Sacred Scripture is contained in today’s Gospel account wherein we find Jesus saying, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Jesus is saying something very beautiful in those words, something really wonderful about the humility of God, making us His friends.
Some people prefer a God who is a sort of benevolent Emperor, a sort of plantation owner who provides for us as one would provide for his slaves. Other people want a God who gives clear laws, rules and regulations, one who sets our boundaries for us. Under such a God there are no hard decisions to make; no real thought given to the most creative responses we can make in any given situation. Under such a God, all one need do is simply follow the rules. Nevertheless God continues to insist: “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” That puts burdens on us. We have to figure out how to fully respond to Him. Freedom has its burdens, doesn’t it? We have to make hard decisions. There are no simplistic solutions to be had.
Too often we neglect the whole reality of friendship in our lives. We take friends for granted. We treat our so-called friendships as we treat all others in our lives, rarely stopping to consider the beauty of a true friend. A deep friendship, however, reveals what God is trying to say to us. But if we take friends for granted, along with their desire to really love us, then we will never really understand the meaning of what God is saying to us. We will never really understand the meaning of the revelation that God is love. For love and friendship are two ways of expressing the same reality.
One cannot be a friend simply because one follows a series of laws, or the rules of etiquette and politeness, or other such formulae. There is no cookbook way to be a good friend, no series of techniques to follow. There is only one way to be a good friend, and that is to love, to give your love to your friend without any strings or conditions attached. For a friendship is not a contractual relationship with a series of quid pro quo obligations. Love, real love, is without limits. It takes us into the mystery of that love is. Love has its reasons the mind knows not of.
Love and friendship are loaded with uncertainties. Part of the bittersweet agony of loving is found precisely in the uncertainties that are involved. There are expectations involved on the part of both parties, and those expectations may be met or not met. But friendship is deeper than expectations. Friendship is there whether or not we experience disappointments, whether or not we feel good. Love and friendship go far beyond feelings. Love and friendship involve decisions, choices, will, and commitment. It is beyond reason.
And so I would like to bring three points to your attention today, points that are essential to love and friendship.
One is ACCEPTANCE. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval of anything and everything done by the one you love. Remember that in the passage we just heard Jesus called His apostles “friends” at the Last Supper only moments before Peter denied Him three times and the rest of them turned and fled. Yet Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, called them His friends. That sort of unconditional acceptance is hard to believe when we encounter it, but it reveals the nature of God in His love for us. Can we live up to that standard and accept the limitations of others even when we don’t approve of what they are doing? Loving as God loves isn’t easy… but it is beautiful.
Another quality of love and friendship is RESPECT. Jesus had a deep respect for the men and women who were His friends, the ones whom He loved. Think of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Think of the Samaritan women who had five husbands. Think of Matthew, the hated tax collector for the Romans. Think of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus. Think of all of the sinners and outcasts who surrounded Jesus with whom He ate and associated Himself. Even though Jesus did not approve of all they did He nevertheless respected them. We should remember that the Latin word from which “respect” comes from, respicere, means “to look again.” In other words to look deeper.
The third quality I want to bring to your attention is that of HONESTY. Friends are totally open to each other. They reveal everything about themselves. Jesus revealed everything about His Father. He said to His apostles, “I call you friends because I have made known to you everything about my Father.” There was no holding back, nothing kept hidden. He gave all of Himself for us to see, hanging in nakedness on His cross, totally exposed in the final moment of His greatest gift to us. Remember how Pope John Paul II died? He didn’t hide his condition, his sickness, or his suffering from us. It wasn’t pretty, yet He let us see everything as he faded away and died.
Jesus told us, “No greater love doth any man have than to lay down his life for his friends.” There’s that word again… FRIENDS. Friendship is a beautiful thing. The friendship of God is an infinitely beautiful and marvelously mysterious gift He has given us. In deep humility and in sacrifice God has gone to a terrific amount of trouble in order to give Himself to you and me in the love of friendship. Can we accept that? Have you accepted that?
In our minds we can make God out to be anything we fancy. We can let our emotions, fears, guilt, and anxieties shape our attitudes toward Him. We can try to make God into our own image and likeness. We can try to turn Him into a cartoon character in order to avoid taking Him seriously. But eventually we are going to have to face up to the reality of what He says about Himself and how He has chosen to relate to us. “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.”
Some questions now face us. How do I regard friendship? How do I treat the friends who are in my life? Do I allow God to be my Friend with all of the acceptance, respect and honesty that’s involved in being a true friend? It’s a challenge. Knowing that it is a challenge Jesus sends us the One we need, the One who can empower us and equip us to meet the challenge, the Holy Spirit. He is our Advocate. He is the One who inspires us and counsels us. If we give Him time and attention we can truly follow in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus, Jesus who has risen from the dead and overcome the worst that the Evil One can throw at us.
God offers, we respond. And if we respond to God’s life giving Spirit then the power of Christ’s love will conquer all, and we will be the persons God created us to be.
Onward now to Pentecost which we will celebrate the weekend after next. May the Lord be with you and with your spirit.