That’s some sobering and honestly, disappointing news. Particularly when we think about this Gospel passage we just heard tonight. It is a continuation of the Gospel from last week where Jesus was speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room on that first Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. Remember, Jesus had already washed the disciples’ feet – called out Judas and seen him leave to betray Him. He was alone with the disciples and His thoughts about what was about to unfold: His arrest, his unjust trial, brutal torture and crucifixion. Rather than giving into what would be understandable anxiety, or fear, or distress, Jesus speaks to his disciples in a very new, specific and intimate way… Despite the fact that He knows how these guys will be utter failures, denying and abandoning Him in his hour of torment; how fear will grasp their hearts and anxiety will rule their minds to the point that they will forget all that He had said and done in the horrors of Good Friday – despite all of that, Jesus Christ, fully human, fully divine says to his handpicked apostles in this passage some very key, beautiful things:
I chose you…
to be my friend…
love one another as I have loved you.
Imagine that scene: Jesus knows these are his final words before His death and what that will do to them. He wants them to not give into doubt or despair, or let feelings of loneliness to cause them to forget that He sought them out… He called them, and chose them… That this relationship was of divine friendship… rooted in absolute, total, selfless love. That’s an amazing story. We can hear and feel the dramatic tension of it all.
But those prayers (or cries?) of mine were answered in a real way that evening as I read those words – It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you… [to be] my friend… if you keep my commandments… to love one another as I love you. All of a sudden the reality that priesthood wasn’t something I was pursuing like a career or something to aspire to, but an invitation that maybe, I was chosen for, by Jesus who reveals himself as a friend and wanted me to be His friend – and told me in a way that was both simple and complicated – that meant loving as He did (meaning it would cost me my entire life) made sense. The loneliness, the fear, and the anxiety started to recede and I felt my confidence in my discernment grow from that day forward.
The Good News we celebrate here is that: God has a face, and a name. In Jesus Christ, God has become human, so that we don’t have to get lost in mystery; so that we don’t believe lies like we don’t matter, that we’re simply specks of dust in the universe… So that we don’t allow our feelings to deceive us into believing we are all alone. Right here and now, this Gospel is proclaimed anew… The word of God is alive and active. Jesus looks out in this room at His disciples. And tonight, Jesus says It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you. Jesus has chosen each and everyone of us – to be His friends – which we are when we keep His commandment: love one another as I love you.
Perhaps one way to combat the loneliness epidemic starts right here and now… By each of us allowing these words to penetrate our hearts anew. It’s like when we were little kids and had to keep learning the same lessons over and over again (how many times did we have to write out our ABC’s? Or go through a times table) – we needed to drill over the fundamentals till they became instinctively known, and understood (and go for refreshers when necessary). This Gospel is repetitive, not to drill something into our heads — but our hearts: how the King of the Universe chose each of us in Baptism to be His friends… That He has not simply loved us (past tense) in creating this universe, in the many storied and celebrated ways we find throughout scripture, and most definitively on the Cross that first Good Friday – but that He loves us (present tense) in even more countless, personal, ways that are as unique and personal as each of us are – but in one particular way that we share together as we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
As we consider that anew, as we allow Jesus to abide within us, and see that His friendship is meant to touch every aspect of our lives, then we start to take what we’ve received and share it in this mission that we’ve all been entrusted with: to share His love, especially with those most in need, those most lonely in the world around us.