Sixth Sunday of Easter
No Longer Slaves
“You’re not telling me what to do!” How often, during the pandemic we’ve suffered through, have these kinds of thoughts and words been expressed? First it was about masks and restrictions; then it was about getting the vaccine. “I’m American, I have my rights and liberties, you can’t force me.”
I hear these words against Jesus’ statement to his disciples: “I no longer call you slaves, but I call you friends. Slaves do not know what the master is about; but you are friends because I told you everything I heard from my Father.” From ancient Rome to contemporary America, we are all sensitive to being enslaved, to being made to do something. No one is going to tell us what to do!
So many of our readings today speak of love; what a wonderful coincidence for Mothers’ Day. If anyone knows about love, we think, mothers must. But how often mothers feel trapped, enslaved, because of the demands put upon women in general and mothers in particular. They feel caught by the demands of their work and professional lives; they feel caught by the expectations of the household.
Jesus seems to say that the crucial difference is whether we know what our lives are about. He goes out of his way to show his disciples what he is about. He wants, through the boundless love that he shows, reveal the boundless love of the Father. “I have told you what I heard from my Father,” he says. “I have shown you what true love is about.” This true love can set us free. It is no obligation but rather gift.
We see a dimension of this true love in the first reading when Peter acknowledges that, in view of Christ’s death and resurrection, God shows no “partiality.” How much of religious identity has been based on partiality—you have to be of this race, or this class, or this level of skill. How much of Jewish life as like that, especially after the Exile in Babylon; and how often Christians have behaved with partiality, with pickiness, with limiting the abounding acceptance the God shows us. “You have to be this or else you can’t belong.” Partiality is the secret history of religion and also our nation.
But true love sees no partiality because it gets outside itself, outside its own preoccupations and concerns, to see the lovability in everyone, the lovability that God has placed in everyone because of creation, of redemption, and of God’s Kingdom. Ask a mother, “Which is your favorite child?” and she will go crazy. “I love them all,” she will say, even though some have been more supportive, and others have been more problematic. A mother’s love is like God’s: you can’t put boundaries on it.
“Love is of God, and everyone who loves is begotten of God.” This profound truth from the second reading takes a whole lifetime to absorb. We are slaves so long as we do not know what it’s all about, as long as we need to be told. We are friends, that is, we relate in love, when we understand that everything is about love. Not the changeable romantic view of love as something that turns us on. Rather, Jesus is speaking of the self-giving love that reveals the true purpose of life.
It’s not about being forced, of losing our freedom. It’s about finding our freedom because we freely give ourselves on the model of God’s revelation in Jesus. We don’t have to be forced because we freely give, knowing that only when we give ourselves to God and to others can we find the wholeness for which we seek.