You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. (Jn 15:14-15)
How many friends do you think you would keep if you told them today that they could be your friends under the condition that they do what you command? Probably not many which is a shame, because friendship is based on trust, and so the best friend is the one you can command and who can command you.
We have a difficult time understanding this notion in our present “personal relationships” with each other; which is why we need to do better than “personal relationship” when we encounter God. Our goal should be the noble union of friendship. Yet to achieve this end we need to set aside our feeble understanding of friendship in favor of God’s understanding.
In today’s Gospel reading for this 6th Sunday in Easter, we are given a wonderful insight into the just and proper union with God. When Jesus meets his Apostles as the Incarnate Word of God, He is Master; and his Apostles are servants. The Apostles are not privy to the activities and especially not to the motivations and purposes of God. However, over time Jesus reveals to the Twelve the mind and intention of his Father; “everything” as Jesus Himself puts it. Jesus gains intimacy with his Apostles and they become his friends. However, Jesus still commands them.
Here we are reminded of an ancient story of three Greek friends, one who in dying caused the other two to read his will. The will bequeathed to his two friends not a obvious benefit, but a responsibility: to care for his widow and daughter. One of these two friends also died not long after, leaving the remaining friend to see to the care of a widow and the dowry of a young bride (which he saw to with joy). Thus, the first friend left as his legacy – a command – and his friends were glad to receive it as benefit.
In order to better grasp our call to friendship with God, we place on our bulletin cover a work by the Scottish Romantic painter, John Pettie, entitled The Vigil (1884). This painting (especially the shadow of the sword on the knight’s surplice) is said to have influenced the creation of the spire for the Church Army Chapel in London.
In this work we see a young man keeping vigil before the Eucharistic altar as part of his knighting ceremony. All night he has been facing “ad orientem” as we now finally see his figure light up at the rising of the sun. He keeps vigil, not seeking a personal relationship but a friendship with God, that is, trusting and gracious service (Mt 23:10-11), as he prays, “Command me, O’ Lord”. For the purpose of our spiritual meditation, our knight has before him the “armor of God”: the mail of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helm of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:13-17). He desires to be the comrade and friend of God; and so he appears to understand full well what this means – obedience to all God’s commands.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services