“Friends of God” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, May 5, 2024

“I do not call you servants any longer. But I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father”. So says Jesus to his disciples in our gospel today, and, since you and I are become disciples of Jesus through our baptism and confirmation, Jesus is saying this to us as well. You and I, brothers and sisters, are friends of Jesus. What an incredible act of condescension from Jesus towards us. Understand I don’t at all mean “condescension” in the usual sense of belittling someone, but in the “theological” sense of God choosing to come down from heavenly glory to our level and accommodate himself to our limited, finite understanding. This is something that God has chosen to do with us from the very beginning of our creation, when he walked with our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the cool of the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). Can you imagine what an experience of intimacy and closeness and loving communion must have passed between them and what a devastating thing to lose because of their original sin?

I am sure, after their expulsion from Gods’ intimate presence and out of the Garden of Eden, that our first parents really missed that closeness they used to enjoy with God. And you know what, I bet God misses it as well. There is no way else to explain why God continued, even after mankind’s fall , to reach out to human beings, to forge covenant after covenant with them, seeking to communicate with us and holding out the hope that, one day, we would be reunited with him. That time came with the entry of Jesus into the world, in the ultimate act of “condescension” as Jesus took to himself a human nature and a human personality, becoming “like us in all things” says the book of Hebrews “except sin” (Hebrews 2: 17; 4: 15). We might say that, in that case, Jesus couldn’t have been truly human, because all human beings’ sin, don’t they? But that is to misunderstand the original grandeur of our human nature, because God created us NOT TO SIN. To be truly human is not to sin, to have the power not to sin. That power was lost when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s commandment in the Garden of Eden. After that, our first parents, and all human beings, save one, have limped along with a deformed, disabled humanity, inherited from Adam and Eve. The one exception, of course, is Mary, mother of Jesus, who, by a singular act of mercy by God was conceived without the curse of original sin in her, so she could be the purest vessel to carry the sinless Son of God in her womb.

Jesus came to restore the original unflawed humanity of mankind, by taking the burden of all our sins, past, present and future upon himself and crucifying it on the cross, so that when he died, the power of sin over us died also. When Christ rose from the dead, into new life, so our human nature in Him rose to new life also. So, through Christ’s death and resurrection, we human beings have been re-created into what St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, calls “a new humanity” (Ephesians 2: 15). That is the new humanity bestowed on us in and through our baptism and confirmation, which is why those who received the sacrament of confirmation this weekend must be seen through new eyes, because they are, again in Paul’s words, this time in 2 Corinthians “a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17), including a new humanity, and a renewed friendship with God, able to once more walk with him in the cool of the evening, and enjoy closeness and intimacy with him.

I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends”. In the whole of the Old Testament, Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5), Joshua (Josh 24:29), and David (Psalm 89: 21) were called servants, or slaves, of God. Only Abraham, out of all the great heroes of the Old Testament, was called God’s friend (Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). But you and I, folks, who are nowhere near the spiritual stature of these greats of Jewish history, are raised up, by Christ’s own choice, to be his friends. What an honour, what a privilege. “I chose you; you did not choose me”. We think we were the ones doing the choosing, or, at least, our parents chose for us to be baptized, although we “confirmed” their choice at our confirmation. But the truth is, Jesus chose us first. From the very beginning, Jesus was seeking us out, staying with us through all the times of our youthful rebellion and stubbornness to his call, waiting for that one moment, when he would reveal himself and his love to us and win us to himself, as Paul says, in his letter to the Philippians, “I am seeking to capture Christ, who first captured me” (Phil 3: 12). St Peter echoes Paul’s thought, when he writes: “Brothers and sisters, you have been called and chosen; work all the harder to justify it” (2 Peter 1: 10). 

In the Book of Wisdom, in the Old Testament, we are told that the Spirit of Wisdom, “in every generation passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God” (Wisdom 7:27). Through our baptism and confirmation, therefore, the Holy Spirit of God passes into us and makes us “friends of God”. Jesus tells us in our gospel today, that the proof that we are friends of his, lies in the fact that he has “revealed to us everything he has heard from his Father” (John 15: 15). Imagine that Jesus is continually revealing to us the mind and heart and will of his heavenly Father, through his holy Spirit. When our first parents were told the commandment of God, not to eat from the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, they disobeyed, and they lost that first intimacy they enjoyed with God, knowing his mind and heart and will, and living it out continuously. As a result, they were deprived of the Holy Spirit and lost the continuous contact they had with God, and continuously blundered into sin, falling into bondage to sin and its master, the devil. Now, through the intervention of Christ, through his death and resurrection, we have overcome that birth defect, original sin, and been restored into intimacy with God, our Heavenly Father. So, the Holy Spirit is restored to us, in our baptism and confirmation, and we once more have intimacy and closeness to God. That means we can once more obey the commandments of God, which is, in its essence, the call to love with the same unconditional, unlimited, “agape” love with which Jesus loves us. Our first parents fell from grace, and intimacy with God, and salvation, because they disobeyed the commandment of God. Now we are restored to that intimate communion with God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and we can once more obey God’s commandments, which is, as St John tells us, simply to “believe in the Lord Jesus and to love one another” (1 John 3:23). 

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, brothers and sisters, but it can be so difficult to live it out in our daily lives, because we think we have to love with our own human love, and, quite frankly, we struggle to love those closest to us, including those in our own parish community. But the truth is, that, through our baptism and confirmation, we receive the Holy Spirit, and St Paul tells us, in his letter to the Romans, that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). If we would love with the love of God, then we must each day ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be renewed in us. And that is why I am asking you, to pray each day this prayer to the Holy Spirit, which has been created from the teachings of Pope Francis.

You will find a copy of this prayer in the annex as you leave the Church today.