There’s a very special message in the Gospel reading today. At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples who were at table with him, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from the Father.”
It sounds very strange to us to hear Jesus referring to his disciples as slaves. But those who heard him would have asked themselves why isn’t he calling us slaves any longer?
The word for slave is doulos. Moses, Joshua and David were given the title, doulos of God. In his letter to Titus, St. Paul refers to himself as the doulos of God. This was a title of great honor. Mary, in the gospel of Luke, tells the angel Gabriel that she’s the doula of the Lord. She’s no common handmaid, as the word doula is usually translated – she’s the slave of God, just as Moses was the slave of God God’s own possession, devoted exclusively to him.
Jesus goes on to say that he now calls his disciples friends. This word, too, has a historical background. Abraham was called the friend of God, a term that came from the royal court of eastern kings. The friends of the emperor had access to the king at any time. They were his most trusted confidants even before his generals and statesmen.
Jesus is telling his disciples that they’ve been called to serve God with the intensity and devotion of Moses and Mary but not at the status of a slave who simply takes orders. Jesus is making them his partners – his personal confidants -his friends. They’re privileged members of God’s inner circle.
He then sends them all on a mission. I “have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” And what’s the fruit that they’re to bear? He tells them very clearly, “This I command you: love one another.”
John, the author of this gospel teaches, in his first letter, that “God is love.” Jesus is taking his disciples – all his disciples, not just those at the Last Supper – into the intimacy of God’s friendship. To do so, he asks us to follow his commandment with the commitment and devotion of a slave, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
What a tremendous revelation! What a tremendous invitation! As slaves, we joyfully bear the burden of love. As friends, we draw the power of love by touching the very heart of God.
A Brief Reflection for the Feast of the Ascension
I want to call your attention to a sentence in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We’re told that Jesus’ last message to his disciples was that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could give witness to him “to the ends of the earth.” He was then lifted up and returned to the Father. They were still watching him ascend when “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.” They then spoke these words:
“MEN OF GALILEE, WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE LOOKING AT THE SKY?”
What’s the message of these two men dressed in white garments? It’s simple. Get your heads out of the clouds! Come back down to earth! You’ve just been given a commission to witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth. There’s serious work to do! Get going!
The Gospel passage reinforces their words with the words of Jesus. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature!”
What do you hear today? What are you going to do about it? Where do you go from here?