Love. The word “love” occurs 9 times in today’s gospel and another 9 times in the epistle. Friend occurs 3 times in the gospel and joy twice. We expect God to love us. We don’t really believe it, but we expect it! After all, isn’t God supposed to love everyone?
One of the most astonishing statement’s in all of Scripture is found in today’s gospel reading. Jesus says “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus says that we are his friends. This is the love of God we don’t expect; to be his friends. Not only that, but it is the kind of friendship that lays down its life for others.
But isn’t there a catch? Jesus' friendship seems conditional; if we do what he commands us he will be our friend. That sounds more like a servant or slave than a friend. No, we have it wrong. Christ says that he does no longer calls us slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. Isn’t that amazing? We are not slaves but friends because Jesus has told us what he is doing. He tells us through the Scriptures, the Church and the Holy Spirit.
It was the Holy Spirit who led Peter to understand that even the Gentiles are loved by God, are God’s friends. Peter was shown by the Holy Spirit in a vision that God shows no partiality. He accepts anyone who fears him and acts uprightly. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that as Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening. God gave the Gentiles the same gift of the Spirit that he gave to the Jewish believers. He gave them himself.
Love is so essential because, as John tells us in his epistle, God is love. If we want to be like God were must love as God loves. We must love without partiality. We must accept all those who God accepts and love all those God loves. And we must lay down our lives for them. This is no sentimental love, but the love of God. It is a love, as St. Paul says, that spared not God’s own Son but delivered him up for us all. A love that will freely give us all things.
When my friend Vincent Druding was ordained to the priesthood last week, one of the verses he used on his invitations and holy cards was from today’s gospel, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”
Vince understood that laying down his life for God’s friends is at the heart of the priesthood. It is also what we are all called to as Christians. In imitation of Christ, we love as he loves. To do this, to have the strength to lay down our lives, we must receive from the Holy Spirit God’s grace, his very life. This life comes to us through the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist. In Confession, we lay aside every burden and sin that clings to us and holds us back from loving God and his friends. As we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we will be filled with every grace and blessing. We will receive the strength to love as God loves. As St. John says, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.”
Our Blessed Mother is sets an example for us. Having accepted the Father’s love by saying Yes to the angel Gabriel’s news that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God, she went to see her cousin Elizabeth. In that moment of joy and love and friendship, Mary brought Jesus to her.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will fall on us as he fell on the Church in Acts so that, filled with the Spirit, we will know the joy and the love and the friendship of Christ. Then let us bring that joy and the love and friendship of Christ to all of God’s friends.