As I reflect on the words of Jesus, literally translated as “put your life on the line for your friends,” I am struck by the contrast between the communal love Jesus calls disciples to and the violence of our world.
The companions of Jesus knew that they faced death and persecution for being disciples of Jesus (John 16).
The companions of Jesus knew that he brings new life to friends like Lazarus (John 11).
And they also knew that the world will hate them like it hates Jesus (John 15:18-25).
I have witnessed this hatred with black brothers and sisters standing against a barricade of police adorned with riot gear.
A current advertisement asks “is it enough to be a good friend?” The ad says that being a good friend is not enough. What you really want is to be on “top of the hill,” in “power” just like “a boss.” That ad summarizes the ethic of the U.S. empire. In the same way that Jesus’ radical practice of compassion led to his torture and crucifixion, so disciples who practice the love at the heart of the Gospel risk persecution, torture, and even death in the midst of the U.S. empire.
The image of police in full riot gear surrounding and arresting Ieshia L. Evans as she peacefully protests the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge comes to mind. So does the joyful face of Jerome Succor Aba, a Muslim peace activist from Mindanao, Philippines, who, although he was invited by the USCCB and Sisters of Mercy to attend an ecumenical justice conference and was granted a Visa by the U.S., claims he was tortured during his 28 hour detention at the San Francisco airport. The question of John’s Gospel concerns the entire faith community. Does our faith community stand on the side of the ethic of the U.S. empire or are we known as friends by people who suffer persecution, torture, and death?
The question goes to the heart of Jesus’ intimate love for each of us and the world.
Alex Mikulich is a Catholic social ethicist and racial equity consultant. He is co-author of The Scandal of White Complicity in U.S. Hyper-Incarceration: A Nonviolent Spirituality of White Resistance (Palgrave 2013 and 2015). He co-edited and contributed to Interrupting White Privilege: Catholic Theologians Break the Silence (Orbis 2007) which won the Theological Book of the Year from the College Theology Society.