6 May 2018
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 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 and that our joy may be complete. This is not to be seen as an ethical or a moral command but rather as love in action It is 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. 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 his all. f) He invites us to share in his work by commissioning us for this. He is the one who chooses us.
Above all he invites us to love because God is Love (first reading). We are to love him first and then others. If we 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 all kinds of obstacles in the way. If we truly love Jesus we will know what to ask the Father as we would never think of asking anything contrary to God’s will for us and for others.
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, this is 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. We will certainly be the ones to benefit. So in the gospel today Jesus is emphasizing friendship, love and joy. How much does our spirituality reflect this? In many ways maybe we are better as a Lenten people than an Easter people.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, unless we name it Eucharist. 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 marvelous spirit of celebration in our Christian liturgies, often taking 2 hours. Elsewhere one hears people hoping the priest will celebrate a ‘fast mass’ on Sundays. Is this because we cannot spare more time for God? 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. And a baby who was is stretching out his arms asking for love and friendship. And eventually as a grown man he was crucified.
“Lord, why is it that many people experience your message so little as joyful news. Open up our hearts Lord to your call to friendship, sharing, joy, love. Help us to be convinced of this GOOD NEWS first in ourselves and then to invite others to the feast of your friendship and love. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA.