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Of Slaves and Friends

Of Slaves and Friends

If you attended Mass today or read the Gospel passage that is assigned for today, you will have received a foretaste of the passage that will be used for this coming Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. 

“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.”  (John 15:14-15)

If we pause for a moment and consider the difference between slaves (or servants) and friends, I suspect that at least some of you might be inclined to suggest that obedience is the duty of a slave rather than a that of a friend.  However, Jesus tells us that by obeying his commandments we become his friends!

If we look at the stories and characters of the Hebrew Scriptures, we will find many references to the servants of God.  Moses, Joshua, and David, for instance, are all called “Servants of God.”  Only one man in the Old Testament is called a friend of God, i.e. Abraham.  Abraham earned God’s friendship by obeying God when God asked him to sacrifice his only son.  As is written in the Christian Scriptures, this was credited to Abraham as righteousness.  Through obedience Abraham is consistently named as God’s friend in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus issues only two commands.  We are called upon to believe in Jesus, and we are called upon to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  Faith in Jesus and love of neighbor are the only two commandments to be found in this Gospel.  Obeying these commands earns us the friendship of Jesus. 

In other words, when God considers the difference between slaves and friends, God’s idea or concept is different than ours.  In a conversation with a young Biblical scholar who attended my Bible study class today, he offered the notion that the Scriptures, both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, offer us two ways of thinking: God’s way and the human way.  This is readily seen when we speak of issues such as justice and mercy, punishment and forgiveness.  However, as we can see from this brief discussion, it also applies to concepts such as servants and friends.  God’s ways are not our ways.

It is also interesting to note that Jesus tells us why he is speaking to us in these terms.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  (John 15:11)  Again, notice that joy is the result of obedience.  I suspect that at least some of us think that happiness is gained by doing what we want rather than what someone else wants.  God’s way of thinking is obviously not our way of thinking in this regard as well.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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