I’m fascinated by how fascinated we are with the topic of friendship. Theologians, philosophers, poets, songwriters, novelists, film makers, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists have all dealt with this topic. Song lyrics and quotes by famous and not so famous people abound on the topic.
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long, ‘til I’m going to need somebody to lean on.” “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” “Two are better than one; for if they fall, the one will lift up the other.” “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”
The best quote on friendship of all comes from the best friend of all: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The word friend occurs six times in the gospel of John. Jesus mentions the “friend of the bridegroom.” Jesus refers to Lazarus as “our friend.” We are told that the good shepherd “lays down his life for his friends.”
The disciples are elevated from servants to friends. Jesus loves his friend Lazarus. The Father loves the disciples because they have loved Jesus. There are five references in John to the disciple whom Jesus loved. There is the conversation between Jesus and Peter about Peter’s love, or lack thereof, for Jesus.
In today’s gospel, immediately following on the metaphor of the vine and the branches, Jesus teaches the disciples that discipleship means friendship with him and with God. Discipleship is being a branch of the vine. Hence Jesus’ use of the term “friends” for his followers: “I no longer call you servants. I have called you friends.” And he states the core value of friendship in the community of followers: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
The word friend is rooted in Old English, where it means both “to love” and “to free;” to love another freely, as a gift, and to love in a way that frees another. A friend’s love is free when there is no price tag, no trying to control or manipulate. The desire to control can creep into any relationship: between husband and wife, parent and child, siblings, and between friends.
“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.” In being our friend, Jesus brings us to know the Father. The Eucharist we celebrate is the pledge of God’s commitment to us, the revelation of the Father’s love in Jesus, poured out for us.
Easter joy is God’s will for us. A joy rooted in connection and affection, God’s friendship for us, in Jesus’ friendship with us who hear his call to live as disciples. After celebrating and receiving the bread of life, broken for us, and the cup of salvation, poured out for us, we are sent forth into our world: to love God and love one another.
Paul A. Magnano