No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15: 15
Today’s gospel reading brings to mind, by way of contrast, a bit of cultural memorabilia from ancient history, specifically, 1965. The refrain of a very popular song released that year by The Seekers goes as follows:
We’ll build a world of our own
That no one else can share.
All our sorrows we’ll leave far behind us there.
And I know you will find
There’ll be peace of mind
When we live in a world of our own.
For us, the experience of infatuation, of loving another passionately, always has about it a desire for possession and exclusivity. To experience “falling” in love with another and being loved by another carries with it the sense that the way to “peace of mind” would be to live “in a world of our own” where we could devote ourselves merely to each other without all the distractions and dis-ease that come through the contamination of the bothersome others and the rest of the world.
The love of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel, however, is very different. It is a love that is inherently multi-relational. In both its horizontal and vertical dimensions, it is an experience that is dependent on multiple sets of relationships and which, thus, does not shrink from but expands into the wider world.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are not servants or slaves but friends. There is a mutuality and an intimacy in their love that makes them equals. But this equality of relationship is not based on their mere relationship to each other: “. . . but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.” The love that they share as friends is the love of the Father for Jesus, and through him, for them. That is, they do not love each other for what they can do or give to each other, but rather to share and express the love that they know from God. In this sense, there is at the heart of their love for each other, a reverence for the Beloved of God that they recognize at the core of each other.
There is no more “heady” human experience than that of infatuation, of encountering another with whom we would like to “build a world of our own.” Life, however, teaches us that, in most cases, the very one we would like to be marooned with on a desert island becomes, in due course, the one we would like to push into the ocean. For no one can be what that initial experience would make of her or him. Eternal “peace of mind” can never come from another finite sinful human being, including ourselves.
The philosopher, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry distinguishes between the human acts of projecting a future and making a promise. Projecting a future, he says, “uses the future as the safest possible context for whatever is desired.” Making a promise, however, binds us to someone else’s future. “If the promise is serious enough, one is brought to it by love, and in awe and fear.” “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13). Love, as Jesus speaks of it, always requires a promise and commitment to the other who is, before all else, loved by the Father, as we are. The love which we offer in our actions of service toward others is offered in awe and fear of a Divine love of them that we reverence, for we know it in ourselves. To love each other as God has loved us means, in the first place, to reverence that primordial love in and of the other ahead of our own need and desire to be taken care of by them. Thus, if it is truly love we have for another, we can never build a world of our own, for there is always Another who is with us and who is loving all with the same love.
The Confessions provide a unique testimony to the fact that it is God and God alone who can give shape and meaning to a human life. The struggles of men and women to make their own lives and build their own securities end in despair, and this is equally true for the believer and the unbeliever. Conversion does not signify an end to the chaos of human experience, it does not make self-understanding easy or guarantee an ordered or intelligible life. What is changed in conversion is the set of determinants within which the spirit moves; and these may be as inaccessible to the mind as they were before. Thus the confidence of the believer never rests upon either his intellectual grasp or his intellectual control of his experience, but on the fidelity of the heart’s longing to what has been revealed as the only finally satisfying object of its desire.
Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge, p. 84