Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 1st John 4:7-10, & John 15:9-17
In our first reading, St. Peter is sent by the Holy Spirit to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile and Roman centurion:
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”
In other words, Peter says, “Relax, I’m made from the same stuff as you.” This was said for Cornelius’ benefit and for ours.
The Evangelists and the Holy Spirit did us a huge favor by recording the early disciples’ flaws and infidelities. Most of these first followers of Christ went on to live their lives for him, some even dying for him, and so we rightly call them saints. Yet the New Testament reveals that they were far from perfect at the start. It would have been so understandable, so easy, for the Gospel writers to omit the embarrassing, regrettable, and even sinful moments of the Church’s founding figures. The fact these unflattering details were included points to the veracity of the Gospels. Imagine how deprived we would be today if these details had been had whitewashed away.
Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons from out of Mary Magdalene. We are never told how their evil influence had affected Mary’s life, but it probably was neither subtle or pretty. Without this knowing this detail, some might think, “Jesus couldn’t accept someone with an ugly past like mine. I’m no model of perfect devotion, like Mary Magdalene.”
James and John had their mother ask Jesus to seat them upon thrones at his left and right in glory. Without this story, those who struggle with ambition and vainglory might lament, “Why can’t I be content to humbly serve, like the fisherman sons of Zebedee?”
Without the story of Doubting Thomas, times of struggle with questions and doubts might bring the self-reproach, “Why can’t I just trust in Jesus, like Believing Thomas?”
Without the story of Peter’s three denials of Christ, after a great fall we might despair, “How could Jesus forgive me? I was not faithful to him like St. Peter the Rock.”
All this is not to say that our sins and imperfections do not matter. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love… This I command you: love one another [and (by implication) love me as well.]” Every sin is a failure to love as we ought, so we must do our best to root our the lusts, prides, and infidelities from our lives. Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Recognizing our own sins and failings, this raises a concern within us: Are we Jesus’ friends?
The setting for today’s Gospel is the Last Supper. Jesus, knowing everything the apostles had done wrong in the past, knowing how poorly they would perform in the near future, told them, “I no longer call you slaves… I have called you friends…” Jesus declares them to be his friends, long before they are perfect. Jesus’ plan, for them and us, is to love us into holy righteousness and glory.
From today’s second reading, from John’s first epistle, we learn:
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Jesus died for us as surely as he ‘laid down his life for his friends‘ the apostles, and Jesus loves us in the same way as them. Relationship, Identity, and Mission: Your relationship is a friendship with Christ. Your identity is a friend of Christ. Your mission is to live as a friend of Jesus Christ. And with the friendship of Christ, we can do all things in him who loves us.