When and where does friendship begin? It is a question worthy of reflection. When we look at the friendships within our lives, where and when did they start? Did our friendships begin all at once in an instant or did they gradually develop and grow over time, even to the point where we might not exactly remember when a friendship began? I think that the latter of these two is the more common nature of true friendship. Friendship grows over time and it grows through daily means.
As Christians we believe in the friendship of God. This is an aspect of the uniqueness of Christianity. But it is a friendship not because we have loved God first but because God has chosen to love us. The readings for this sixth Sunday of Easter can be read in the terms of friendship (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29, Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23 and Jn. 14:23-29).
In today’s gospel we find our Lord saying, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him…” In his book, The Priority of Christ, Bishop Robert Barron takes some necessary time and effort to explore what the doctrine of Christ as fully human and fully God has to say about the very nature of God. Bishop Barron begins by exploring the very common fallacy of viewing God as just the “biggest” of beings. He points out that if this were the case then God would still just be a being among other beings (albeit the biggest) and therefore if God is just another being then God’s will necessarily inhibits and limits my will, my freedom and my very being. Nothing is further from the truth and this is demonstrated in the reality of Christ being both fully God and fully human, because in Christ we find humanity fully realized and not inhibited in any way in the presence of full divinity. God is not the biggest being among other beings who will necessarily limit my freedom by his presence; God is “otherly other” – to quote one early Church Father. God operates in a way that we cannot fully grasp because we are limited beings. God does not need to compete with us.
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him…” Christ is offering the terms of a friendship that is truly non-competitive in nature. This is the amazing promise of Christ. To the one who strives to keep the word of Christ; God will come and make his dwelling with him or her. “Dwelling” is a neat word here. It is not heavy. It does not oppress. It is a place of life and home. The presence of God does not limit nor oppress because God is otherly other. God can be fully present to us in our lives in a non-competitive manner and in a way that truly fulfills us. Keeping God’s word leads to this true life.
Our Lord continues this invitation to a non-competitive friendship with the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Christ can promise and give a peace that moves beyond all the limits of this world precisely because Christ in the fullness of his divinity and humanity is otherly other. Christ can enter into your life and my life in a way that brings fulfillment. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit does not come to limit life but to give the abundance of life and peace.
In today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation we are given the image of the new and heavenly Jerusalem. It has been noted that in the development of Sacred Scripture there can be seen a progression in regards to the awareness of the presence of God. First, God is present for his people in the meeting tent. Second, God is present in the temple then God is present in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, God is fully revealed within the person of Jesus who is both the new temple and the new covenant and Christ seeks to be welcomed within the human heart, “…and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him…”.
John writes of his vision, “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.” There is no need of temple or church in the heavenly Jerusalem because the presence of God is fully realized and welcomed within each human heart. This welcoming in friendship begins today and it is found in the daily invitation to encounter our Lord as he makes himself present to us.
In the first reading from Acts we find the early Church deliberating about its mission to the Gentiles – how this is to occur and even “if” it should occur. This is no small thing. In fact, it is at the heart of the mission of the Church and it, in many ways, is a question about friendship. Can the friendship with God that we now know through Christ be extended and should it be extended to the whole world? The Church, guided by the Spirit, comes to the decision that yes, friendship should be extended and friendship is always possible. This mission continues today and it is primarily an invitation to friendship. The love that we have heard and seen and touched is a love that, by its very nature, must be extended to others. As Church, we proclaim that friendship is always possible and we make this proclamation despite the messages that seek to isolate and divide people from one another.
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him…”