A few months ago my brother Cathal who was studying in Canada told me that he had gone to a particular jazz concert where a world famous trumpeter called Wynton Marsalis was playing. My brother studied music and is a big jazz fan. After the concert he went to a local jazz bar only to find Wynton Marsalis had also gone there and played for the rest of the night. At the end of the session Cathal went up to say hello to this guy. He couldn’t believe that he even had the chance meet Winton. When he went up Wynton was talking to another man. After a minute he realised that my brother was waiting to meet him and he just turned around and put his arm around him and said, ‘Hey, how are you?’ My brother Cathal said he felt so chuffed that this famous musician would be so kind as to recognise him and greet him in this way.
I remember also hearing a story of John Paul II visiting some place in Poland. And whatever building he had been brought to all the staff were lined up to meet him. When he came into the room he recognised one woman he knew from years before and straight away he said, ‘Mary, what are you doing here?’ and he gave her a big hug. She was so overcome to be singled out by the Pope in this way that she just burst into tears. For whatever reason we love to feel that we are remembered, or recognised; that we’re not just nobody.
In the Gospel today there is a simple phrase which you could easily miss. Jesus says, “I call you friends,” because he says he has taught us everything about himself and about the Father. Can you imagine if the Lord appeared in the sky and we were all watching and he singled you out and said, “Oh this is a friend of mine.” How bizarre, and yet what a wonderful privilege. The Lord tells us that we are not his servants, but his friends and even children. We say that often, but I think we forget what it means. Our friends are the ones who look out for us, do favours for us and stick with us. Real friends won’t let us off the hook either, even if we are out of line. They are the ones who will challenge us, because they love us. Jesus is telling us the same thing. He treats us as friends, which is a sign of his enormous respect for us. A servant can be let go at any time if they are not up to standard, but you don’t let go of a friend, even if they are not up to standard. Jesus is telling us that this is the regard he has for us. I find that very comforting.
My best friends are the ones who have stood by me through thick and thin. And as you know well, you will know who your true friends are when you make a mess of things, or when times are hard. They are the ones who will stand by you. That is what the Lord Jesus is saying to us. He is with us and He will stand by us regardless.
There is another line in the first reading today that I also want to mention, where Peter says: “The truth I have come to realise is that God has no favourites; but that anyone of any nationality who fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35). And then as though to prove the point, just after he said this, the Spirit of God came down on all who were present and empowered them and these people weren’t even baptised. They were pagans. God was showing them something wonderful: All people who try and do the right thing, are acceptable to God.
I know there are a lot of people here who are worrying about their children or loved ones, perhaps because they don’t seem to be practicing, or living their faith in the way that we think they should. Well remember this line: ‘The truth I have come to realise is that anyone of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.’ Most people I know, whether they practice or not, do fear God and try to do what is right. I think this should give us and the people we love great hope.