The Second-Personal Relationship

Sixth Sunday of Easter. Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48; Ps 98:1,2-3,3-4; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17

Today's Gospel is taken from the Jesus' farewell to his disciples before his passion and death. When Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends,” he is therefore equipping his disciples to understand, one day, the supreme expression of God's love for human beings, that God would become man and die as man on a cross to save us from hell and everlasting death. But what is also particularly significant in this Gospel is how often Jesus uses the second-personal or 'you' form of address. He says, for example, “I love you,” or, “I command you,” or, “I chose you,”  In the final chapter of this discourse, John 17, Jesus addresses his heavenly Father in a similar, very intimate second-personal way, for example, “I glorified you on earth,” and, “I am coming to you,” and, “May [they] all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us,” In these texts, Jesus constantly uses the 'you' form of address and very personal and intimate language, such as 'Father', 'friends' and 'love'.

Since we are familiar with Christian language it is easy to overlook how remarkable it is to address God in such personal and intimate terms. One of the greatest pagan philosophers argued that there is a God but he also denied that we could ever be friends with God and he never addresses God as 'you', in other words as a second person. Furthermore, even other religions that believe in one god never address God as 'Father'. It is unique to the Christian Faith that we can become adopted children of God through Baptism, enjoying a personal and even family relationship with God. Indeed, today's readings reveal, not only that God relates to us in a personal way, but also that God is interpersonal, and that the goal of the Christian life is to be drawn into this interpersonal life of God, the life of the Trinity. So Jesus says, “As the Father loves me,” referring to the inner life of the Trinity, he then adds, “So I also love you,” extending to us the love of the Father for the Son. Similar, when Jesus says, “My joy,” referring to his union with his heavenly Father, he then adds, "... may be in you," expressing, in other words, his desire to share the life of God with us. Indeed, St John in the First Reading, not only says that God loves, but that God is love, Love being both interpersonal and the special name of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Now this language of interpersonal relationship is not just talk or mere words, but has concrete implications, both in our daily lives and for our communities and countries. With regard to our relationship with God, we cannot say that we love God and yet never spend time relating to God in a personal way. Just like coming to know another person, we need to read the story of God's interaction with human beings, especially in Scripture, the history of the Church and the lives of the saints. We must also pray regularly, because we cannot know and love God if we never speak or listen to God. With regard to our relationship to other human beings, if God is our Father, then other human beings are potentially or actually our brothers and sisters. Now this change in our relationship to other human beings brought about by Jesus Christ has profound implications, both personally and politically. Other human beings are not mere rational animals or vocal instruments, but our brothers and sisters. For example, when St Paul writes his Letter to Philemon, the Christian master of a runaway slave, who has also become a Christian, St Paul asks the master to welcome the slave back as a beloved brother, planting the seed of an idea that would bear eventual fruit in the abolition of slavery in many parts of the world today. Another implication is for marriage, which is not, in Christian terms, simply a contract for mutual benefit, but a sacrament and a lifelong covenant between persons. Other implications are in regard to our treatment of the seriously ill, the disabled, the poor and the unborn. If other human beings are potentially our brothers and sisters and fellow-citizens of heaven we cannot, for example, dispose of them when they become sick, or before they are born or use human embryos as raw materials for research, even for some apparent good cause. Furthermore, if other human beings are our brothers and sisters, then we have to careful even in everyday matters. It is important, for example, express gratitude and to say sorry, when necessary, for these are expressions of courtesy and love towards persons. In addition, while most people understand that murder is a mortal sin, very few people realize that reviling or detraction or tale-bearing or derision or cursing other people can also be mortal sins. The point is this: we cannot say that we love God and hate the children of God, our brothers and sisters. In the light of the Gospel, there is no such thing as an 'ordinary' human being.

So may God help us to invest in friendship with Him, especially by spending time in prayer. May He also give us a strong sense of dignity of each and every human being as beloved by God, potentially a child of God, and a saint in the glory of heaven.

Father Andrew Pinsent, Saint Ambrose Church, Saint Louis, 17th May 2009

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