The key phrase from the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel this week is “you did not chose me, I have chosen you.” It reminds me of my first Mass, which had the same gospel some twelve years ago. I can remember thinking, yeah, yeah, God chose me, but really thinking that the initiative was mine, not God’s. After these years of being a priest I am more convinced that it was God who was doing the calling, and all the work of preparation, and he’s the one who helps me every day, and every moment.
Jesus says I no longer call you slaves…I call you friends. Doulos is slave in Greek and it was not a disparaging word. A similar word is diakonos, which is our deacon, or servant. A slave or servant normally obeys even though he is not part of the decision making process, he is not on the inside track. I have called you friends, which is from the word philos, to love. A better meaning would be that I have called you: those that I love, who are much more than ‘a friend.’ I have called you beloved, is another translation and this fits well with a biblical mentality. The one who listens, deeply, has an opportunity to follow the Lord and be connected to the vine, and be fruitful. What more could we hope for in life?
So when I serve, I no longer become a servant or slave since a friend does what God commands me and in my service, in my going out to others, I am no longer a servant, but a lover. A Christian also does what is commanded of him not as a law or obligation but from what he has received and the love he has experienced. He does the will of God only since God helps him to do it, not to earn credits with God; he does it with a humble heart, knowing his own weaknesses and his total dependence on God, his Father.
When I remain in Him, only then can I keep the commandments and they are not burdensome. Those who say I am close to God and rarely come to church are fooling themselves, and there are many today, the majority I would say, who justify themselves in this way. If we as branches are truly connected to the vine then everyone around us can see our good works. First of all ‘those works’ are the help God gives us to live the commandments, and high among them is to live Sunday as a day of rest and a day of praise for God, not for myself, that I think I am so good, and my kids are perfect. That is pie in the sky; we need to have our feet on the ground, and not to live in the truth. A true Christian follows the Good Shepherd, is like a branch that is pruned and shaped obediently, and is chosen by God for a wonderful work in the Church. It is not the one who picks and chooses what he fancies, according to his/her way of thinking, as is they were God.
To be an authentic Christian is impossible without being connected to the vine, which is Jesus Christ. It is not only a matter of worshipping on Sunday but having a true connection with Jesus that is manifested in daily actions where I set aside time exclusively for him by going to daily Mass, reading a spiritual book or a chapter from the Bible or reciting the Divine Office. Any relationship requires time and choices, and decisions about what activities are more meaningful or more important for me. To think that one can run around with worldly concerns all day and be connected with the vine without devoting time to God is wishful thinking, at best.
Let’s return to the idea where we started that God is the one who has done the choosing since this may not be easy for an American in this generation to understand. God is the one who gave us life through the cooperation of our parents. We were born in a certain year and in a particular family and place and all of this and much more is part of our history, which does not come from us. So where does it come from? Is it just by chance or is someone, is God, behind this? Perhaps we are not used to thinking in this way, but for sure it is God who first loved us and continues to do so.
God does not choose us because we are good. He has chosen us often when we were far from him and due to his choice I can start to do good, but it is a long process. Often God chooses those who we call bad, or far from him or not the most likely to be called. Look at the history of the Bible. God chose Abraham to be the father of faith, who by any standard was a loser. He had no children and especially no son to inherit his property, and he had no land. Also David was the smallest of his brothers and yet becomes the greatest of Israel’s kings. It is God’s choice, his love that gives us always another chance. Let us take this seriously. How many more years do I have?