Reading 1: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Reading 2: 1 John 4:7-10
Gospel: John 15:9-17
Marge stood in her doorway…six feet away. We have been friends for twenty-five years, and now an invisible enemy was doing its best to separate us. “I miss hugs,” she said plaintively. That simple statement pretty much captures the angst of friendship during a pandemic. Unless we are in a bubble, fully vaccinated, in a well-aired space, etc., being physically present to our friends is verboten.
We long to be face to face with our own friends. To laugh together. To catch up. To simply be in each other’s presence. Our friendships are important, for we see in our friend the friend we long to be, and that calls us toward growth. In other words, we are better people because of our friends. In this Easter season when we celebrate the Resurrection, we are also invited to celebrate the new life that arises from the tomb in our own lives, the green sprigs of spring that hint at hope. Our long pandemic Lent is not eternal. And friendship is what can help us hold to that hope. As our readings for this Sixth Sunday of Easter indicate, we’re not just talking about our personal friends. We hear in these readings something quite extraordinary. We are invited to become friends with God.
In the first reading from Acts, we learn that God shows no partiality. Peter has been summoned to preach in the house of a Gentile centurion (10:1–2). In a vision, Peter had been told that God had made all food clean, indicating that those who did not partake of the kosher diet were, nonetheless, welcomed by God (10:9–16). “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality,” he announces to Cornelius and those gathered. As Peter speaks, the Holy Spirit falls upon all listening. The circumcised believers are astounded that the Gentiles, too, were to share in the same Spirit, thus bringing to fruition the prophecy of Simeon. A light of revelation had been granted to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). A way of salvation is opened, and it’s God who extends the hand of friendship.
We’re not disqualified because we don’t think we measure up, or have sinned, or have fallen short of God’s and our own expectations. As Paul Wadell writes, “God sees our fullest potential — our redeemed and holy self — and God loves us in a way that beckons this self to life” (The Primacy of Love [Paulist Press,1992], 73). Why does God bother? Because, as the second reading from the First Letter of John explains, it is God’s nature. God is love.
In 1 John 4:7–10, the word love (agapē in the Greek) appears ten times in these four verses. The author urges his community to love each other because God is the embodiment of love. By loving, one demonstrates that he or she has been begotten by God. The particular type of love which is called for is exemplified by God, who sacrificed his own Son as an expiation for our sins.
As the second reading and the gospel affirm, agapē is love demonstrated by personal sacrifice for the sake of the other. This love becomes a defining Christian virtue. In the gospel lection, Jesus explains that the source of this self-sacrificing love is the Father, whose love Jesus now shares with the disciples. John 15 is part of a long discourse in which Jesus, anticipating his departure (14:1–4), provides directions for his disciples. In today’s reading, the disciples are to remain in the love of Jesus and keep his commandments in order to experience complete joy. If they do so, the disciples are no longer servants. Jesus calls them friends. In the Greco-Roman context, there were several types of friendship including host-stranger, political, and patron-client. Jesus specifies that his friendship is characterized by the presence of agapē. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13).
Jesus is radically reorienting the relationship with his disciples. No longer is it between a master and a slave. Now it is a relationship between friend and friend. His disciples have become children of God. But this invitation to friendship is not only for the disciples; it extends to all who believe (John 20:29-31). And that includes us!
We may sing “What a friend we have in Jesus,” but do we really believe that? What would it mean to think of ourselves as friends with the Divine? Far from hokey or heretical, Thomas Aquinas argued that this is one friendship above all others for which we should strive.
Thomas believes the unimaginable; in fact, he insists on it. Thomas believes we can be, are called to be, and must be friends of God. That is what our life is, a life of ever-deepening friendship with a God who is our happiness, a colloquy of love given and love received, a sharing in which each friend delights in the goodness of the other, seeks their good, desires their happiness, and finally becomes one with them (see Paul Wadell, Friendship and the Moral Life [Notre Dame Press, 1989], 120).
Friendship with God presumes that we share with God the same desire, the same vision for the world and for all of creation. In our tradition, that shared vision is the Reign of God. If we hope to deepen our friendship with God, to bear fruit in that relationship, and to experience the gift of the Holy Spirit this Easter season and beyond, we need to “love one another” with the impartiality of God and thus our joy will be truly be complete.
Sr. Laurie Brink, OP
Professor of New Testament Studies
 For more on this topic, see Laurie Brink, What Does the Bible Say About Friendship (New City Press, 2019).