There are lots of popular stories out there where some character gives their life for the good of others… Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan… just to name a few. I would guess that many of us are drawn to these kind of hero stories because they illustrate something that is so incredibly important and necessary in human life; they show us that there are characters who are willing to sacrifice everything in order to save others; that the bond of friendship means something; that our lives are called to something higher and perhaps more noble than just existing. These stories give us hope that all is not lost.
That kind of hope is a good thing especially when it seems as though it is absent in the world around us. After all, who would make that kind of sacrifice for another?
One of the things that I have appreciated about our lessons this year as we celebrate the season of Easter, is our readings from John’s gospel and especially from the First Letter of John. These readings continually speak about the love that Jesus and the Father have for each other and for us. They also remind us over and over again that these are not just unreachable ideals for those of us that follow Jesus; they are expectations. “This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you.” It’s not a suggestion, it’s not a nice idea. It is a commandment from Jesus that we love one another as he has loved us.
It is not an easy task. Loving as Jesus loved is something you and I need to pray about and practice each and every day of our lives. Loving others does not come naturally to us. Sure, we can love our family, our friends, people who are like us. But what about other people? What does it mean to love those who aren’t part of our inner circle?
It means that sometimes it’s hard. It means that sometimes we might be asked to make sacrifices that are at best uncomfortable. Just the act of loving in itself is a sacrifice because we might have to give up how we think about others, or we might have to take the risk to reveal something about ourselves. Calling someone a friend carries some pretty significant weight; that’s what makes stories like the scene between Kirk and Spock so powerful. As we follow these characters through the years, we get to see how they change as a result of being with each other; we see their weaknesses, we see them develop new strengths; we see their relationship grow and change until one’s dying words are a declaration of friendship and love for the other.
Jesus calls us friends. He calls us friends because our relationship with him has grown over the years. We are friends because we are changed as a result of that relationship; we are made stronger, we are encouraged, we continually evolve into better people the more we engage our relationship with Jesus. We are his friends because he has chosen us and shown to us the love of God the Father. And now that you and I know what that love looks like, we are compelled to go out into the world to bear the fruit of God’s love. Jesus gave his life for us, and while he may never ask us to give our lives for another, it’s part of what it means to love as he loved. When we are baptized we die to ourselves so that we might live for and in him. We die to the selfishness that causes us to live in fear and in the idea of self preservation; and instead, we are to give our very selves away for the good of others. The needs of the many shall always outweigh the needs of the one.
Jesus has called us friends. We are his friends and we are friends with all whom he loves; and here’s the catch; he loves everyone, even those whom we think we cannot love. We are his friends so that we might love him in and through our neighbors… all of our neighbors. And he has promised to love each and every one of us, and to be our dearest and best friend, now and always.