A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 15:9-17
Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.This is my commandment: love one another as I love 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 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.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.”
“Two that walk together are, in fact, more able both to think and to act.”
– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, book VIII
Long ago Aristotle had already recognized that friendship was often based on mutual self-interest, while in other cases it could be based on the simple pleasure of being together, yet these types of friendship didn’t last. On rare occasions, however, a friendship was founded on the Good, that is, on the desire to give oneself freely to the other and on a shared value.
Thus it shouldn’t surprise us that true friendship is becoming more and more rare. We live in a culture based on self-interest and the desire for possessions. Meanwhile, friendship requires the willingness to give something of oneself with no guarantee of getting anything in return.
In the times of Aristotle, and also those of Jesus, the difference between the friend and the slave was more clear and obvious. Today, however, many forms of slavery are dressed up in the appearance of love and many slaves and masters have chosen each other.
Sometimes we think that in order to be in a relationship, we must change. It’s true that in some circumstances it is important to adapt but some people spend their entire lives thinking that the only way to be in a relationship is to be a servant. The other person is always the master who must be gratified and must not be disappointed.
One can live as the servant of his wife or of her husband, but also a servant of one’s parents, one’s friends, even of neighbors and acquaintances. If we find ourselves often we say things like “whatever you want to do,” “as you wish,” or “I don’t want to disappoint you” we are probably dwelling in the marketplace of affection.
The person that lives out their life as a servant often does so out of insecurity. His or her low self-esteem makes them think that they don’t have the right to be loved freely. The servant must earn his bread as well as any love he wishes to receive. The servant lives in fear of being sent away. In the same way, anyone in a relationship of servitude is always afraid of being abandoned.
Servants and masters are both driven by fear: the servant fears losing the crumbs that give meaning to his or her day while the master fears being abandoned.
These roles can last a lifetime if the servant never claims his dignity and his right to be loved.
The friend however, since antiquity, has been the symbol of a healthy relationship. The friend is the person who never makes me feel indebted. The friend does not measure his or her love.
No matter how many types of relationships we come across, the friend is always the model of a healthy relationship.
C.S. Lewis said that a friendship is born when one person says to the other “What! You too? I thought I was the only one!…”
The servant and the master see each other as adversaries. The friend, on the other hand, sees something of himself in his friends. Discovering a friend means discovering something of oneself. For this reason, friendship helps us grow in our own self-knowledge.
To give one’s life for a master means bowing one’s life to an inevitable destiny. The masters in our lives are various ideologies we could come under the influence of or the demands of our own needs. These masters strip us of our dignity all the while making us believe that they are doing us a favor.
Jesus frees us from the risk of living out our relationship with God in the way that slaves love their master. He invites us into a relationship of friendship and not one of servitude. God is not a master but rather longs to respond to our desire, which He Himself placed in us, to feel loved and wanted. God is not an idea that we enslave ourselves to; God is the relationship in which we feel loved.
The friend and the servant express two ways to be in relation.
If we want to escape from a relationship, perhaps it’s because we feel that the other is not a friend but a master. When what we feel towards another is friendship, we long to remain. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, the disciples stayed with Jesus on the day they met him, but later the circumstances of life led them to escape from that relationship. It’s not insignificant that the word to stay, to remain, appears again at the end of the Gospel of Luke: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening…” The disciples have discovered the friend par excellence and ask him to stay. This desire is the sign that their relationship with God has returned to health; it is a healed relationship.
Jesus does not simply ask us to love each other, but to love each other as He has loved us. If we were to look for the model of love in one another, we would continue to hurt each other. But we can seek to live out this love between us from a place beyond us: it is Jesus that teaches us how to live in friendship. Without Jesus, we would continue to measure our love for others in a downward spiral that can only lead to the destruction of our relationships.
Questions for Personal Reflection
- When you think of the most significant relationships you’ve had in your life, how did you feel: like a friend or like a servant?
- What do you seek in your relationship with God?
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