Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17
You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to understand that the message of love stands at the very heart of John’s writing. Between the second reading and the gospel today, a total of eleven verses, the word love appears eighteen times. It stands as the core of his ethic and what it means to be a community that has Christ at its center. The past few weeks it’s all we have heard from him is this message of love.
Today, though, he tells it in the context of friendship. He calls his disciples friends. Of course, friendship is near and dear to all of us. More than anything it is our friends that accept us for who we are, warts and all. There’s no need to hide or mask ourselves in anyway. There’s no sense of superiority or feeling less than. If there is it really would not be friendship anyway. Over the course of our lives they tend to be some of the most important people in our lives, accepting us, the first people we call, the ones who walk with us through struggles, the ones who love us in a very unique way, often willing to put our own needs ahead of their own.
It’s a rather unique description that would be used by Jesus in describing his own followers as they prepare to be sent forth into a hostile world. It’s a radical message for them as a crew who would be familiar with their own tradition knowing that the only one named friend of God in Scripture is Abraham, the father of their faith, and now Jesus using the same language. He comes down on their level and meets them there while raising them up in line with someone like Abraham. They are friends. Of course, it won’t take very long before they find out what this friendship is going to ask of them. They’re not the best of friends at first, abandoning him in the darkest of times out of fear for their own lives. Yet, he meets them where they are, in all their imperfections and nonsense, love comes down to them and calls them forth.
We have seen how that plays itself out in the earliest community of Acts of the Apostles these six weeks of Easter now and once again today Peter is confronted with this reality in relation to others. Peter has just had a miracle done through him so Cornelius believes that he is at an elevated position. Now, of course, we have put Peter in that position ourselves, and there’s nothing wrong with being a leader, but what Peter doesn’t forget is that it’s not about him. As a matter of fact, when he gets out of the way, as he did today, his ministry is even more fruitful because he knows it’s not about him and it is only this love and this friendship with Jesus that continues to work in and through Peter to do what he does. Now it’s not that they always get it right either and we’ve heard that these weeks as well. They are constantly discerning and figuring it as they go and learning where it is that God’s leading them, but they can only do this by doing what was commanded to them in this farewell discourse of John, by remaining and abiding in their friendship with Jesus and to keep returning to that source of love.
The community at times still falls back to its old ways and old way of thinking. The other followers of the way can’t seem to understand how the Spirit has come upon the Gentiles in the first reading today. Israel, like Peter, has had its own struggle with having a somewhat superior status of being the chosen ones of God. The master/slave relationship that Jesus speaks of was most familiar to them and has influenced them greatly. It all takes time and returning to that source of love that begins to expand their hearts to understand that it doesn’t matter whether your Jewish, or followers of the Way, the early Christians, Samaritans, or Gentiles, this love far exceeds a particular group of people because the chosen-ness has nothing to do with that and everything to do with who this God is and the expansiveness of that love. As they grow and deepen in that love it begins to make sense and the normal boundaries and judgments that have separated them begin to dissipate. The love that transforms their hearts now transforms the world around them. It only happens, though, when the return, abide, remain, the message that we have heard consistently from Jesus the past few weeks. You only become love when you return to that source of love and that friendship with Jesus.
As we come ever nearer to the end of the Easter Season we return back to the beginning when we were asked as to what kind of community we’re called to be. John has reinforced that message of love over and over for us these weeks and calls us to remain and abide in that love. It’s the only thing that changes and transforms us. Today, though, he calls it forth through friendship, one of the most valued of all relationships we cherish because we choose this friendship with Jesus. We come like the disciples, messed up at times, afraid, far from perfect, masks and all at times, but he comes down to us and raises us up to that place of love to transform our hearts where we no longer need to hide from this God but rather enter into friendship in order to abide in love and become that love.
It is only love that will see the disciples through as they are sent forth into the hostile world, a world that remains hostile towards love. Hostility, fear, war, violence know full well the power of love and will do anything to have us succumb to something less than love. We go forth to bring that love to a world that doesn’t need more violence, separation, war, and division, but needs to be loved. It’s the only thing that will transform it. The more we enter more deeply into friendship with Jesus the more that love transforms our hearts and we become the hands and feet of Christ to those most in need and who are hurting. We don’t go forth in order to be more of the same. Rather, we go forth in order to love in a very different way as we are called to be a community of love, of friends, who don’t see ourselves as better than or even inferior towards others, rather as the most humble of ways, as friends. Friends who share in love and are called to become love. We pray for the grace to abide and remain in that love so that despite whatever it is we face, the world will be, as it was with Peter, transformed in and through us because we have allowed, over and over again, love to transform us.