Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Today, the reading of chapter 15 of the Gospel according to John continues.
Jesus describes the relationship that exists between Him and the disciples as one of love: the term love, in these few verses, recurs nine times.
Besides the term love we find another one, equally important, that Jesus applies to His own, and it’s the term “friends”: to tell who are disciples of Jesus, as He “smells” them, He uses this term: He calls them “friends” (John 15:15).
What does it mean to love for Jesus, what does it mean to be friends?
First of all, for Jesus, to love means remaining together. Loving each other is not an occasional meeting, neither is it both being present remaining external, strangers, each with one’s own life. For Jesus, loving has this intensity, this depth, by which the other enters you, and becomes a part of you: not always an easy relationship, and often there is confrontation, there is no understanding, there is disappointment, but the other remains a part of your life, which is why you cannot live without the other, you cannot leave. And it is mutual.
This is the relationship between Jesus and the Father, their being one, their having everything in common: this is why Jesus can speak of loving the Father and keeping His commandments (Jon 15:10).
But this is also what Jesus saw with us, He has loved us like this, not able to do without us, because we have entered Him and He lives no longer without us. Jesus asks His followers to remain in this love, namely, above all else to allow ourselves to love like this.
For us, the experience of remaining is somewhat problematic: in our fragile humanity, what we experience most is losing, forgetting who we are, where we are going, and with whom. Often we are the first to escape from life, by ourselves, from others.
The history of salvation, just like our personal history, recounts so many of these episodes.
But the remaining of which Jesus speaks today does not exclude all this, rather: it is no accident that the farewell discourses, of which this chapter is part, are placed by John the evangelist before the passion of Jesus, a time when almost none of the disciples will remain but each one will get lost. Loving, for Jesus, means offering the other a place so secure, so open and welcoming, where the other can always return and feel at home, as if he had never gone away.
To remain does not belong to the sphere of human ability, but clearly visible in God’s mercy, which He has given His own, He has called us friends by offering us a place to remain also in our escapes, deficiencies, shortcomings, sins: no matter how far we stray, we never leave this embrace, this abode.
This is, then, to remain above all else there where we call to mind our faults and we don’t awkwardly try to be unharmed by them: our sin will not be in blocking ourselves from remaining, but our presuming to not be sinners. Remaining means to live in the mercy of God, where grace is sufficient.
All this is the true, great joy possible for humankind: “I have said these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full” (Jon 15:11).
There can be the temptation to think that love is like this, that demands a total welcome and a gift of self to the end, is an obstacle to true joy; and in our modern imagination, the term remaining has a hint of constriction than freedom.
For Jesus, it’s not like this: first, He knows “his joy” (Jon 15:11), which is that of having kept His Father’s commandments, namely, of having remained united to Him in a single will, a single life. There, He received everything.
And He wants that this style of His joy would also be in His disciples, where they learn to love one another, to be that good abode for one another, able to welcome the other in his differences and difficulties, capable of forgiving one another.
Able to live that remaining together, which speaks of a relationship stronger than blood ties, a relationship where the other belongs to me and, therefore, I’m interested in and cannot but care for him/her, up to giving my life for others. This means being friends (Jn 15:13) in the style of the Lord.