by Father Mike Stubbs
What does it take to become someone’s friend? If you are on Facebook or some similar social Web site, it is very easy. That person just signs you up. A few clicks, and you are friends.
But in real life, we know that friendship demands a lot more. In the case of friendship with Jesus, what does that involve?
Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 15:9-17, deals with that topic. The text hails back to the evening before Jesus’ death. Jesus is speaking to the disciples gathered around him, in those long speeches now usually called the farewell discourse. Our Gospel reading makes up a small part of that passage.
Jesus informs the disciples: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Since Jesus is going to lay down his life for the disciples the very next day, his death will serve to confirm his friendship with the disciples. That is why Jesus goes on to say: “I no longer call you slaves. . . . I have called you friends.”
If Jesus’ death will prove his friendship with the disciples, what will they need to do, in turn, to show their friendship with Jesus? He anticipates that question in the discourse by giving the answer: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
This statement may sound contradictory, since we usually associate obeying commands with slavery rather than friendship. The proverbial slave says to his or her master, “Your wish is my command.”
The path out of this dilemma lies in the object of Jesus’ command: “Love one another as I love you.” Jesus wants the disciples to share intimately in his life. By loving one another, the disciples will come as close to Jesus as is humanly possible.
That makes sense when we think of what friendship ordinarily involves. People become friends, at least in part, because they share common interests. Maybe they both like to go deer hunting or to fish. Maybe they both like to play bridge. Eventually, a friendship may develop based on those shared activities. Compatible personalities may also play a part; the people have to get along with each other. But it takes more than just that. They also participate in a common activity.
If we are to be friends with Jesus, that common activity is love. After all, love lies at the core of Jesus’ ministry, his life and his death. If we truly wish to be close to Jesus, if we wish to be his friends, we have no choice but to similarly make love the focus of our lives. That is what his commandment means: “Love one another as I love you.”
It is part of his invitation to us to be his friend.