Earlier this week I was channel surfing and came across a broadcast of the first of the “Hunger Games” movies. I have to admit that when the books and movies initially came out I was skeptical and avoided them altogether but then one day, kind of on a whim, I joined some friends who had decided to see the movie. I am now a fan. At the heart of that first movie (which I saw again this last week) is a scene where a young girl is killed in these games that pits child fighting against child to the death. The heroine, who was trying to protect this young girl is heartbroken. But in her pain and grief she does a tender thing. She gathers flowers and places them around the body of the young girl lying dead on the forest floor.
In the cold world depicted in this story where, I would say, the sense of God has been lost (a world that at best can only say, “May the odds continually be in your favor.” rather than, “God be with you.”) the heroine performs a corporal work of mercy. She buries the dead and she does it in love and friendship. Via video cameras the nation silently watches and in response, in an imprisoned part of the country, a fight against the injustice of the oppressors breaks out! All because the heroine performed this simple act of taking the time to acknowledge the humanity and the dignity of this young girl … a humanity and dignity that all the “powers that be” were trying their best to negate.
There is a power to love and friendship. You know, if you think of all the great stories – whether they are expressed in movies, plays, literature, opera, whatever medium – a common element that runs throughout them all is the exploration of love and friendship. The settings both geographical and in time may be worlds apart. The characters and plot may be very different but in any good story there is an underlying story and exploration of the dynamics of love and friendship in life. The reader or viewer might not know what it is like to fly a bomber in WWII or stare at the walls of Troy or fight off zombies but everyone knows what it is like to yearn to give love and receive love and to desire friendship and remain in friendship.
Part of the essence of love and friendship is that it does not have to be flashy in order to be true. I thought of this yesterday in our parish’s celebration of first communion. Christ gives us himself (his body and blood) in the form of bread and wine – two things so utterly common. God does not need flash, God does not need smoke and mirrors and God does not need the latest fad in order to accomplish his plan in our lives. We might believe we need these things but God does not. Think of moments of friendship or moments when you gave or received authentic love … I would wager that the memories that come to mind are anything but flashy, more than likely they are common even to the point of being unnoticed by others – laughing with a friend, holding a loved one’s hand, comforting a child…
In today’s gospel (Jn. 15:9-17), Jesus says, As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love … love one another as I love you … 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.
What does Christ give us and what does Christ call us to? Love and friendship. We must not pass this over, because this is the heart of it all! What unites all the great stories? What speaks to the depth of universal human existence? What does Christ give us? What truly transforms our lives and our world? Love and friendship. And the gospel message is that it is both love and friendship with one another and, through Christ, love and friendship with God! Christ calls us his friends; we need to take this to heart. We can never be friends in a sense of peer to peer with Christ but, nonetheless, he calls us friends. We need to pray on this truth and therefore on the great power of friendship that our Lord himself alludes to in this passage.
We should never underestimate the power of love nor the power of friendship.
…love one another as I love you.
I no longer call you slaves … I have called you friends…