As many of you may well remember, this Sunday’s celebration of the Holy Family at Nazareth is my nemesis? I have long found it difficult to be comfortable in preaching...
At the outset of this week’s reflection it might be helpful to consider the fact that true friends are willing to ‘prune’ themselves and each other for the enrichment and productivity of the friendship. I often wonder if the best accolade (not compliment) a parent or child is able to bestow on each other is the public acknowledgement that each is a friend of the other?!
Over and over again the Gospel makes clear references to the intimate and loving relationship Jesus had with his Father. It was so close that he once proclaimed – ” I and the Father are one.” Did the Father ‘prune’ Jesus? Did Jesus know that the Father was ‘pruning’ him because of the intimacy of the relationship they enjoyed?
It may be helpful as we ponder all these questions to consider Michele de Montaigne’s (one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance) words written on the subject of friendship “If anyone should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I feel it could not be otherwise expressed than by making the answer, because it was he, because it was I. ”
All the above thoughts are to be considered against dramatic words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper immediately after his proclamation I am the vine. The words are recorded in TODAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 15: 9 – 17]. “No longer do I call you servants, … but I have called you friends.”
At once let us not overlook what we are told in TODAY’S SECOND READING [1 JOHN 4: 7 – 10]. “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us. ….” It is the Father’s love that took the initiative. It is Jesus’ love that takes the initiative in claiming us as his friends. We have to get our minds and hearts around this basic fact. The Risen Jesus comes to real life in each believing Christian within a context of the relationship of friendship which he wishes to enjoy. We have to move beyond a remote Jesus Christ who is outside our immediate lives and living. There must be an ongoing development of the relationship of friends. Ultimately, this is why he has chosen us and rose from death to life.
Let us bring words from the Book of Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach) 6: 14 – 16 into our reflection. “A faithful friend is a secure shelter; whoever finds one has found a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price … is an elixir of life.” In these closing weeks of the Easter season let us ask ourselves whether we truly recognise the Risen Lord as a faithful friend who is a secure shelter and someone (a particular individual!) who is a real treasure?
I think it is important not to view what has been emphasised in the previous paragraph through rose-coloured glasses or in fairytale. Alice-in-Wonderland, terms. In real life a faithful friend is a person we trust in good times and bad. In addition, a good friend is willing to offer constructive criticism, challenge us to admit mistakes and clearly indicate the necessary adaptations. In addition, we should remember that a secure shelter is not intended to be a hibernation hole. Rather it is the location from within which we are encouraged and empowered to live-out a more constructive and productive life style.
There is one final point emerging from today’s Gospel – and it actually holds together everything we have said. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing …. for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus provides, in the present, all we need to know and understand about being his friends. Recall our French philosopher – because it was he, because it was I.
Jesus Christ initiated a New Law and Covenant. The Ten Commandments remain the basis for our friendship with Jesus but he provided the Eight Beatitudes as the secure shelter within which we are equipped to go out into our world and actually follow the Commandments. As servants we obey the Commandments. In the living out of the Beatitudes we are carried into the relationship of friends. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
“I have called you friends.”