I have different kinds of relationships with various categories of people.
Acquaintances are people I recognize when I see them but do not know very well. They may be parishioners who show up for Mass occasionally, parents with kids in the school or people with whom I worked years ago. I might know where they live, what they do for a living or to whom they are married but not much else. Our relationship has little depth.
Friends are people I know much better and so when I see them will likely stop and chat. They may be people with whom I share a common experience (like a mission trip), interest (like reading) or set of values. I usually know about their background, ambitions in life and opinions on various subjects. We occasionally share our feelings with each other. Our relationship has some depth.
Close friends are people for whom I make time to see. They are my immediate family (brother, sister-in law and nieces) as well as priests and lay friends whom I have known a long time. I can tell when something is bothering them even when they insist nothing is wrong. I know what makes them happy, sad, fearful and angry. We have seen each other at our best and worst and gone through the highs and lows of life together. We talk freely about those feelings and experiences which are not shared with others. We are each other’s sounding board and can be ourselves in their presence. Our relationship has real depth.
Yet, even close friendships are not perfect. There are things we might be afraid to tell our friend for fear of their reaction. The desire to impress or please this person may keep us from being truly ourselves. Since certain things upset our friend, we steer carefully around them in their presence. If only we could have a perfect relationship where such obstacles would not exist.
In today’s Gospel (John 10:27-30) Jesus says he wants to have this kind of relationship with us. Immediately before this text some Jewish leaders ask him if he is the messiah. Since Jesus understands this term means different things to various people, he doesn’t answer the question directly. Christ indicates he has already made clear his identity (as demonstrated it by his actions) but these leaders reject it. He adds that he and the Father (God) are one. They enjoy a perfect relationship because they have complete unity. The leaders react by picking up stones to throw at him because they think he is commitiing blasphemy. They prefer a more contractual relationship with God (follow the Law, sacrifice in the Temple, keep a respectful distance away) than the intimate one proposed by Christ.
Jesus also states his sheep (followers) listen to his voice and follow him. He seeks to have the same kind of relationship with them as he enjoys with the Father. Jesus states this desire more explicitly on John 17:21. Yet, since this relationship is rooted in love, it cannot be forced upon anyone. Disciples must want to have this kind of relationship with him. Since they are sinners, obstacles will get in the way, but the desire can still remain.
This text prompts the question “What kind of relationship do people want with God?” Do they want God to be an acquaintance? They could acknowledge God’s existence by showing up for Mass occasionally, refrain for committing serious sin and giving to charity but keep the relationship shallow for fear of appearing too religious. Do they want God to be a friend? They could come to Mass each Sunday, say a few prayers and put money in the collection basket but not share much of their life with God. Do they want God to be a close friend? They could attend Mass and pray daily and get involved in parish ministries but not share all parts of their life with God. Or, do they want what Jesus offers: everything.
Those in ordained ministry or undergoing formation for it must ask themselves and their people what kind of relationship they want with God. If they don’t like the answer, they can still do something about it.