March 29th, 2015Acts 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48: 1 John 4.7-10: John 15.9-17
A young man got married and he asked his wife if they could go, as part of their honeymoon, to a certain country where his best friend lived as he wanted her to meet him. On meeting the friend he introduced him to his wife with the words. “Here is the man you need to thank for my being alive today”. He is what I call a true friend. Apparently when they were in high school together the young married man found out that he had had a very severe kidney complaint, with both kidneys in a very serious condition. Even though he had been good friends always with the other young man, he realized then what it was to have a true friend. His friend, on hearing of his possible death due to his serious kidney condition offered him one of his own kidneys. Luckily the kidneys matched and the gift of the kidney saved his life. I suppose not everyone would risk his own life to do this.
In the gospel today Jesus says to his disciples that ‘a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends’ which he himself did in giving his life on the cross. He assures them that in the gospel he wants to call them and us too his friends. His relationship with them and us is not to be that of a servant. A servant as we know is someone who does what his master commands as an obligation or because he is paid to do so. Jesus is emphasizing that his relationship with us is to be that of true friendship.
Then in today’s gospel passage he spells out clearly what that is to be. He names a number of consequences of his friendship with us. a) as the Father loves Jesus, so Jesus himself loves us. b) he invites us to keep the commandments so that his joy will be in us. This is not a command. It a friend telling us the secret of how we can be joyful. c) he is prepared to lay down his life for us d) he makes known to us all that he has received from his father. Jesus has no secrets. He keeps nothing back, nothing hidden. There is no hidden agenda. What a marvelous programme for marriage and community life. e) he chooses us even though he gains little or nothing if we don’t respond. He gives all, nothing less. f) He invites us to share in his work by commissioning us for this. Above all he invites us to love. To love him first and then others. If we try to open ourselves to his friendship he will give us anything we ask. If we don’t, he won’t be able to do this because we set us all kinds of obstacles.
In each gospel, Jesus never starts calling people in large groups. In John’s gospel, he calls Andrew and a friend. Andrew goes and calls Peter his brother. Later in that ch.1 of John he calls Phillip and Phillip goes off and calls Nathanael. So the process seems to be: Jesus calls friends who, in turn call other friends. This is to underline the absolute call to friendship as part of discipleship. In Mark 1, Jesus calls 2 sets of brothers. Obviously they are not only brothers but friends and close to each other. Again to underline the importance of friendship.
Would you and I describe our relationship with Jesus as one of close friendship? If not, why not? Why not ask him often for the gift of a deep friendship with him. That is what he longs for. So in the gospel today Jesus is emphasising friendship, love and joy. How much does our spirituality reflect this? In many ways we are better as a Lenten people than an Easter people. We mourn easily………………..We repent willingly…………………..We condemn readily.We have the Stations of the Cross but no Stations of Joy, a sacrament for confessing our sins and failures but no special sacrament for expressing our joy and gratitude to God.And yet the main thrust of the Christ story is of Tragedy averted, Sadness overcome, Victory achieved.
One of the great experiences for me when in Africa was the marvellous spirit of celebration in our Christian liturgies, often taking 2 hours. In Ireland, more than once I was warned by the sacristan on my way out to celebrate Sunday Mass to get of the altar in half an hour. Truly a Fast Track Mass.
So today God is inviting us to rid ourselves of a religion of sadness and fear. We have created God in our own image – we expected a judge, an avenger, even an executioner. Instead a child was born for us. Maybe we were preparing for a settling of accounts And a baby was stretching out his arms asking for love and friendship. Were we ready with Books of Rules and Commandments, with many added sections and Jesus tore them up and said only 2 were necessary Love God……………….Love your neighbour. No wonder they hated him -he turned their world upside down.
“Lord, why is it that many people experience your message so little as joyful news. Open up our heart Lord to your call to friendship, sharing, joy, love’. Help us to be convinced of this GOOD NEWS first ourselves and then invite others to the feast of your friendship and love. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA