The Gospel pericope for today (John 15:9-17) is one of my favorites in the Gospel of John. Today we hear Jesus saying to us, his disciples,
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another."
Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, presented a beautiful and profound reflection series on the topic of "Friendship with God". I highly recommend it.
A couple of things have struck me as I have reflected on the whole series of readings from the Last Supper Discourse during this Easter season. FIrst of all, Jesus is inviting us into an intimacy that so often we refuse. We prefer to be servants, rather than friends. When I was involved in campus ministry, students (always young men) would sometimes ask me, "Father, how far can I, you know, 'go' with my girlfriend?" In the Called & Gifted workshop I refer to this as "limbo theology," i.e., "how low can I go, Father?" This is, at best, the attitude of a servant or slave: what is the least that I have to do.
Our attitude with a friend, with someone we love, is much different. Jesus is not inviting us into just any friendship - a kind of friendship with Buddy Christ from the movie, "Dogma" that hints that no demands will be made upon us. In the passage above, John uses two word forms to describe this friendship - one of which indicates a willingness to "lay down one's life" for another.
When I think of my deepest friendships, there is a hint of that kind of love in them. I want to anticipate their needs. I think about them regularly. I hold them in prayer. I am happy to do what they want simply because I know it delights them, and it really doesn't make much difference what we DO together, because we're doing it TOGETHER.
I believe this is the kind of friendship Jesus is saying he wants of us. Yes, obeying the commandments are important. Following the Church's precepts are important. But they are the minimum requirements placed upon us, and a servant (particularly an unprofitable one) does only what he or she is commanded to do. Jesus is inviting us into a friendship with Him, in which we think about Him throughout our day and ask for His guidance. We can entrust the well-being of our earthly friends and family into His care with confidence. We seek to please Him through the way we treat every person we meet, particularly those who are most difficult to love, for He says, "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me." (Mt. 25:40)
Servant or friend of God? How about both. When we've done all we've been commanded to do, we can take no pride in ourselves, for all that we have accomplished - all the fruit we have borne for the kingdom - has come because of our union with Jesus, the vine. It is truly his fruit, but our cooperation as servants was essential.
But at the same time, is it a servant who laments, "I am an unprofitable servant, I have only done what I was commanded"? (cf. Lk 17:10) Or is it truly a friend, someone who loves another enough to lay down his or her life for another, who would regret that they could not do more, or somehow anticipate an unspoken or unnoticed need?
We are servants of Jesus, Whom we rightfully call "Master" and "Lord". But in His love for us He calls us friends, and invites us into an intimacy that is as deep and profound as the intimacy the Father shares with Him.