Servants, Friends, and Brothers

I noticed this Easter how Jesus refers to us first as disciples/servants/slaves, then friends, and ultimately his brothers. I have noticed this progression in my own experience, but hadn’t previously recognized it so explicitly in the gospel. The theme seems to be consistent across all the gospels. I trace it here through John since that’s where I noticed it during our Lenten gospel readings, and since looking at a single gospel should avoid clouding the issue with stylistic or linguistic discrepancies between the various evangelists.

When Jesus first called his disciples, he called them as disciples, subject to his rule as their teacher. Jesus states the condition for entering this state of discipleship is to follow him, saying “Follow me” (John 1:43), and “If anyone serves me, he must follow me.” (John 12:26). In John 13:13-16, Jesus makes it clear, after having washed the disciple’s feet, that it is right to recognize him as Lord, and Master, saying

“You call me Master and Lord. And you say well: for so I am. If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. Amen, amen, I say to you: The servant is not greater than his lord: neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him.”

We are not left in this state of servanthood, however, but progress ‘farther up and deeper in’ to become his friends. Jesus gives his great commandment, to love one another as he has loved us, then says that in obeying this commandment, we are not merely good servants, but that “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13) What a strange master this is, that in obeying his commandment, we become his friends. Jesus underscores that this is not merely a hypothetical promise when he proceeds to say

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

Or, in another translation,

“I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends. because all things, whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.”

This word friend is used the same way as in our culture, but I noticed it has another significance that is particularly important given that he is speaking to his apostles.

Friend (Philos – Strong 5384): a friend, an associate, a companion, or one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials

Is that not exactly the apostles’ calling? To ask for the hand of the bride of Christ, and to render him various services in sealing the marriage covenant?

It is hard to imagine that we could proceed from slave to a trusted friend and companion, but Jesus is not content to leave us even in this exalted state. He makes us his sisters and brothers.

“When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.” (John 19:26-27)

In giving us his mother through John*, “The disciple whom he loved,” Jesus makes himself our brother. He has already dignified humanity by humbling himself to become man; now he again confirms his choice despite our rejection and betrayal of his love.

* Even for those hesitant about “the whole Mary thing,” the relation is clear. At the very least, setting aside the symbolism of Jesus giving Mary to the entire church through John, even the most Protestant can agree that the Apostle John is our brother in Christ, and therefore John’s mother is our mother. How it must grieve the heart of Jesus that so many of his brothers reject his and their own mother’s loving kindness, and refuse to allow her to interceed with him on their behalf.

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