“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” – John 15:12-15
I lost a close friend of mine in the last year because our relationship changed drastically as I prepared to marry my husband. Madly in love I spent more of my time with him and less with her. Our routines changed and I was not as dependable or available as I had been at time she needed support to deal with a loss of her own. Feelings were hurt and tears were shed. Today I can still say however, that we both did our very best to love each other. Not every story or relationship in our lives works out to a happily ever after. Uncontrollable and bad things will happen.
Jesus here knows that he is about to leave his friends. We find this passage in a section of the Gospel of John called the “Farewell Discourse”. He doesn’t offer parting guidance to the disciples to care for each other when they feel like it, or even to tolerate each other through difficult times. Jesus reminds them that friendship is deeper than that – it’s about love. A deep abiding love that does what is best of the other person even when it is difficult. A love that calls us deeper to a relationship of mutuality and honesty compared to the hundreds of transactional interactions we have all day with others.
Our world is full of simple transactions. I order a sandwich and pay for it, someone makes it and brings it to me. I ask a co-worker for their time and help on a project, and in the future expect to give some of my time and help with their work. I cook dinner, and my husband does the dishes. When it works, it is a world full of expectations as well as a series of giving and taking. If for some reason we don’t get what we expect, we feel slighted. If someone gives me more than I expect, I am grateful – yet somewhat hesitant to what they want in return. That hesitancy shows us that this transactional social economy we function in is not generally one of transparency. We do nice things for others earning “brownie points”, and then cash them in when we need their help.
Hierarchy and power only further complicate these relationships with questions of what one can ask for or expect in the perpetual give and take. Instead of working together, we so often work literally around others without collaborating as we try to put forward our best efforts. As employees we do not always clearly know what our supervisor is doing or what the vision they are working towards is. As managers we know that it is not always effective or helpful for those we supervise to know how all the pieces are going to fit together. As children we do not always understand our parents actions or motives, and as parents we know that children can not always understand the rational or big picture of our answers. (See #reasonsmysoniscrying)
The systems we live and work in everyday are part of the reality of our human society we must live with. We do not have to accept them entirely, yet we must struggle to live in the tension of what the world is and what we believe God intends the world to be. This passage in John shows us that Jesus intends his relationships with the disciples to be friendships – not servants.
Being a friend is hard. It is about love more than any of the transactional relationships in our lives. Love includes honesty, mutuality, communication, empathy – over earning brownie points or proving that we can follow through on our commitments. Christ shows us that he models this love and that is directly from God. Further more, we are loved. This is important. Some days feeling trapped in the systems around me, I do not always feel entirely loved. Yet this is what Jesus tells his followers.
Jesus loves me, sometimes this is all I know.
As I get my barrings back together, I then remember, I love Jesus too. And it is precisely because I love Jesus that I choose to love others. For me, this is about treating as many people as possible in a non-transactional way. About giving without the expectation of receiving. Intentionally being honest and focusing relationships in my life around mutuality and compassion. When I fail, as I too often do, it is my faith and grounding in God that helps me confess this. We do this together every week in worship. Then through hearing the word of God through scripture and preaching, we are challenged and supported by the Holy Spirit to live out the command Jesus gives here.
“This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I wonder how Jesus’s love has impacted your life?
I wonder what it means to you that Jesus wants you as a friend, not a servant?
I wonder how your faith helps you to be a good friend?