As the Father loves me:
Growing up with only one brother and no sisters or female cousins my age, friends have always been very important to me. It has been my experience that the special bond that exists between friends is a sacred one, for it is built on mutual trust, love, and benevolence. Friends are people we can count on to be there for us, no matter what the circumstance. Friends are loyal, and they love us just the way we are. I remember fondly when my kids were little; I used to tell them that if they wanted to have a lot of friends, they first had to be a friend. I assured them that if they offered kindness and compassion to others first, naturally children would return their goodness in the form of friendships. Looking back on those years, I think this was a mother's attempt at not raising little bullies!
As we grow into adulthood, we painfully learn that oftentimes friendships are not easy to cultivate and rather difficult to maintain. Our attempts at building a loving, trusting relationship with another sometimes fall short of our hopes, dreams, and expectations. Broken relationships can leave us feeling betrayed, unloved, and without a friend in the world — that is, except for Jesus, the one who loved us even unto death.
In his Gospel, John offers a wonderful portrait of the risen Christ's love for us:
"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.
In this Scripture passage, Jesus challenges our sociological understanding of friendship by telling us that we are already his friends. "As the Father loves me, so I also love you." We did not have to do anything to earn Christ's love and affection; he loves us because our heavenly Father loves us. In spite of our human weaknesses, in spite of our sinfulness, shortcomings, and failings, we who are made in the image and likeness of God are loved by Jesus as his trusted friend. What a graced relationship! This truly is the good news. In the social media world of texting, we would proudly proclaim, "OMG, what a BFF we have in Jesus!"*
While our friendship with Jesus is based on his unconditional love for us, our willingness to enter into this graced relationship comes with the responsibility of discipleship. Jesus entrusts us with the task of going out and bearing good fruit for the sake of the gospel. How seriously do we take this invitation? Are we willing to be the hands and feet of the risen Jesus in the world, or do we find it more politically correct to practice our faith in private? How willing are we to bear the good fruit of forgiveness and reconciliation in our intimate circles of life and beyond? How open are our hearts to offering kindness to those who misunderstand us, respect to those who persecute us, and compassion and tolerance to our neighbors near and far? Our relationship with Christ beckons us to sow the seeds of peace and justice in a world that clamors not for love but for war and violence. We live in a society that tries to suppress Christianity and its values at every turn, yet our friendship with Christ challenges us to carry his message of love into our homes, our workplaces, and the world. This is the responsibility of discipleship; this is our calling as friends of Christ.
Jesus has chosen us. As his trusted friends, it takes a willing spirit and an unfailing commitment on our part to follow his command, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). As we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, let us be firm in our resolve to allow the gift of the Spirit to fill us with the courage to willingly make disciples of all nations.
* Oh my god, what a best friend forever we have in Jesus! ML
Mary Amore is the executive director of Mayslake Ministries in Lombard, Ill. She holds a doctorate degree in liturgy and a master of arts degree in pastoral studies from Catholic Theological Union. She is the author of Primary Symbols of Worship and the Call to Participation as well as numerous articles.