MODELS OF RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS; SERVANT OR/AND FRIEND
Today’s gospel gives us two models of personal relationship to Jesus: as a servant translated as doulos in Greek which means “slave” or as a friend. At any given point in our faith journey one of these two models is dominant. Either we see our relationship to Christ mainly in terms of master-servant or in terms of friend-friend. With the exception of mystics, traditional lay spirituality in the church has usually followed the master-servant model. Jesus is seen more as a master to be feared, respected and obeyed than as a friend to love in intimacy and familiarity. Today’s gospel challenges us to rethink our relationship with Christ because, evidently, Christ himself prefers to relate with his disciples as friend to friend rather than as master to servant: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
Today, Jesus shows us that there are stages of divine relationship; infant or servant and adult or friendly stages. Jesus says that he would no longer call his disciples servants. This seems to indicate that he called them servants until then. Our relationship with Christ goes through different stages. First it starts off as a master-servant relationship when we are new to the faith, but then as our relationship with Christ deepens it changes into a less formal friend-friend type of relationship. Why, then, do so many of us stick to the master-servant way of relating to Christ as if it were the only way? Today’s gospel is a call for us to move beyond the infant stage, the servant-master relationship, and go over to the adult stage, the friend-friend way of relating to Christ. This will change the way we pray and the way we live. We shall begin to pray better (John 15:7,16) and to experience more peace and joy in our lives, as people who are in love do.
One objection that is often raised by those who promote the master-servant model of relating to Christ is the concern that we are unworthy. Sure enough, we are not worthy. But Jesus has already taken that into consideration. He reminds us that “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16). If he has decided to choose us in our unworthiness and to love and accept us as we are, then we should not fix our gaze on ourselves and ask, “Who am I, Lord, that you should love me?” Rather we should fix our gaze on him and ask, “Who are you, Lord, that you love me so?” Obviously, John’s community believed that Jesus offered something different, so much more. Jesus offers us a love that expresses itself in friendship, and not just merely being friendly, but the deepest intimacy, the mature love of equals: I have called you friends.
However, there seems to be an inconsistency in Jesus claim today. As the gospel would have it, Jesus goes on to say: You are my friends if you do what I command you. To be in a position to “command” is to presuppose an inequality, a superiority – precisely the master/servant alignment that Jesus denies. At first sight it seems so unsatisfactory, it may be hard to find a better word .Nevertheless, we need to look more deeply at what the gospel means when it talks of his “command”. What is it getting at? In this instance Jesus is quite specific: This is my commandment, that you love one another (Jn17.17).
The challenge is to live lovingly. Where do we begin? In the gospel passage, Jesus invites us to abide in his love, that is, to spend time with him, to hang around, to soak in his love, to sunbathe in it – and to let his love transform us: helping us to see, and to energise and empower us to change, to grow and to love maturely – as friends. Call it meditation or contemplation, spending time together, prayer – whatever! But let’s do it! He says we’re friends of his – friends whom he trusts so much that he has shared with us what is most precious to him: He has told us everything he has learnt from his Father, that is, the non-negotiability of loving. When we realize that this is what God is asking us to do, we discover that we can do it, even when it seems impossible. For example, Jesus told us to love our enemies. I can’t always control my feelings toward other people. But if I take seriously what Jesus said – that he is the vine and we are the branches – I can let God’s love flow through me. I can say, “Alright, God, I have your love within me and I can direct it toward other people, even those who are hard to love. It’s your love that I give them
A perfect model of this love is told us in the first reading today following the Jewish-Gentiles relationship with God. Hence the love of the Lord embraces everyone both Jews and Gentiles who were earlier excluded from salvation plan. From the Jewish perspective, Gentiles were often seen as pagans who did not know the true God. During Jesus’ time, many Jews took such pride in their cultural and religious heritage that they considered Gentiles “unclean,” calling them “dogs” and “the uncircumcised.” Gentiles and the half-Gentile Samaritans were viewed as enemies to be shunned (John 4:9;18:28;Acts 10:28).
A young woman walked into a fabric shop and asked the proprietor if she had any kind of noisy rustling fabric material in white. The proprietor searched the inventory and finally found two bolts of fabric that fit the description. As she was cutting the fabric to the customer’s specification, the proprietor’s curiosity got the best of her and she asked why the woman wanted such an unusual and noisy cloth. The young woman replied, “You see, I’m making a wedding gown, and my fiancé is blind. When I walk down the isle, I want him to know when I’ve arrived at the altar, so he won’t be embarrassed. (culled from an unknown source)
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