Grace to you!
[Note: Today’s reflection will be longer than usual]
As I read this morning’s Gospel (John 15:9-17), a particular line grips me with renewed interest.
Jesus said: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 This I command you, to love one another.” (Jn 15:14-17).
I went back and forth the line that says, “You are my friends.” First addressed to the apostles, those words are personal to me (and I believe to any believer in the Lord). I felt a deep joy and a profound peace that the Lord calls me friend. I also felt unworthy to be among those who share in this intimate friendship with Christ, as a member of his body the Church.
Certainly, “friend” here does not mean we are equals with Christ. St. Augustine would rather say, it shows how much Christ humbles himself (condescends) to our level. Christ grants us the access to his life. He does so not only in becoming like us in all things except sin, but equally in the relational example of tender affection and love throughout his earthly life. He sealed it with the greatest love of dying on the cross so in him we find fullness of life and glory.
Christ chose us to be his friends. We didn’t choose him to be our friend (Jn 15:16). This, for me, is strikingly beautiful. Not only that he has chosen us to be his friends, he also gives us the inner power (the grace) to make that friendship come alive, mature, and produce much fruit. The fruit isn’t in any way, such as the termite-infested nuts in non-fallowed farm in southern California, or mangled, pale-looking oranges hanging off of the drought-stricken tree during a harsh weather in the Savannahs. Rather, it is fruits that are healthy, delicious and everlasting, with the glowing foliage of health.
Such fruits, St. Paul calls, “fruits of righteousness” (Phil 1:11). Meaning holiness of life, a life that is justified, a life that glorifies God. In such life, we see personal virtues such as listed in Galatians 5:22 and called the fruits of the Spirit; namely: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We also produce fruits of evangelization. That is, through our life, many will come to glorify God (Mt 5:16) and come to life in Christ. A fruitful friend of Jesus wins more friends for Christ. It is a normal consequence of that friendship. We read about St. Peter in Acts 10 living that fruitful life of friendship with Christ. The spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, was at work among peoples, showing that the fruit is not limited to a particular race. St. Peter, and all who have become friends of Christ form the early Church to our current era, bear fruits of evangelization. I hope you and I bear fruits too.
How could this be when we are simply human? How could we truly abide in Christ and produce much fruit, when in ourselves we often falter? Christ himself gives us the answer.
First, we strive not to lose sight of our source or disconnect with our source, where we belong, to whom we have been reborn—Christ the Lord. We cannot grow and produce fruit on our own. In matters of spiritual growth and fruitfulness, the notion of “self-made-man” is an empty claim. It’s preposterous. We grow if we depend on the grace of God.
Second, friendship with God also implies friendship within his body. We produce fruits when we are engrafted in the body of Christ. Abiding in him is regularly abiding in his body. He has nobody else on earth today except the Church where, through those graces he has promised, he nourishes and strengthens the bond of love which he has established with us. Though friendship with God is a personal relationship, it is also a relationship within his community of faith, the Church.
Third, the power of this relationship does not come from us. It comes from Christ himself. He actually gives it when he sends the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, what St. Paul says, “God’s love poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit given to us” (Rm 5:5) that makes us truly reciprocal friends of God. This Spirit is the abiding grace of the Christ for us, within our hearts, steering us and inspiring us to do good, to produce beautiful fruits and sometimes to do miracles in his name. The same Spirit at work in the early Church is at work today in the Church and in the hearts and minds of the present-day friends of God.
Fourth, this friendship with Christ, which comes to us through the light of faith, is lived or expressed in the works of charity also (Gal 5:6). The Lord would say to us, those called his friends: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). He says it differently earlier: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (Jn 15:10).
Therefore, friendship with God isn’t only about a feeling of it or a mental state where we live in the euphoria of love without action. Instead, there is an expectation from our side, the little we can give back. It is what truly proves the depth of our love.
Though this reciprocal love is little in comparison to God’s love, though it is not perfect, it is acceptable because it is inspired by the love of God himself. This is what keeping Christ’s commandment is—Love. The kind that is ready to offer back to the friend we have in Jesus, what we have become. The kind that relates to any person despite where they come from and their situations in life with selflessness, following in the footsteps of Christ.
Love without boundaries. Love in Christ is the way to true friendship with Him who has loved us first. What a wonderful thing to know and be reminded on this sixth Sunday of the Resurrection.
Praying that the Spirit of God, the love of the Father and the Son be poured into our hearts. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17]
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.