“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
Should you worship in an Episcopal Church this Sunday, you will hear Jesus speak a word of friendship to his disciples.
The context for this poignant exchange is their last meal together before his death. As recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus takes this opportunity to say the things he wants them to remember after he’s gone. He speaks not as master to a servant, or teacher to student, but as friend to friend.
Whom do you call friends?
We use the word to describe a wide array of relationships, ranging from the most casual to those of real depth. Jesus was being anything but casual with his disciples, and likewise, I invite you to think of those you would name as your friends in the deepest sense.
One of the qualities of a deep friendship is that we know that our friends truly care for us. While our relationship might have begun through mutual interest or shared experience, over time external factors matter less. Our friendship doesn’t depend on what we can do for them, how we entertain them, or the common space we share. They simply care about us, and have our best interest at heart.
Paradoxically, one of the ways a friendship grows is through the inevitable experiences of hurting one another. Not all friendships survive that crucible, but those that do teach us the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
This kind of friendship takes time and effort on our part, as we grow into the kind of person that can offer as well as receive the gift of our full humanity. It guides us along the path of becoming someone, as Jesus said, that learns to love others as He loves us.
When I was a teenager, I was blessed to have several adults in my life who meant the world to me. One was a teacher, another was the minister in my church, still another a beloved aunt. They were the kind of people I hoped to be like someday. They showed me, by their example, what it meant to live as someone who loves and follows Jesus.
And at some point in our relationship, each of them said to me in their own way, “I call you friend.” It was an acknowledgement that I had grown, both in age and in my capacity for friendship. They now trusted me to care about the things they cared about, and to love the people they loved. They knew I wasn’t perfect and didn’t expect me to be. Nor was our friendship completely mutual, in that they would always be further down the path of life and faith than I. Nonetheless, their friendship remains one of the great gifts of my life. To this day, I strive to be worthy of it.
These are the friendships that come to mind when I hear Jesus’ say to his disciples, “I call you friends.” He had shared with them everything he had heard from the Father. They had shared life together, and he watched them grow in their capacity to love. No, they were not perfect. One would yet deny him and another would betray him. Still he held out to them the invitation of friendship–a relationship that could endure what we are capable of doing to those closest to us, as we learn to grow in love.
Consider the astonishing possibility that Jesus offers us the gift of his friendship.
He is far more than a friend, and yet, as our friend, he loves us, no matter what, cares for us for our own sake, and delights in our company. The nature of our friendship with Jesus will never be mutual, yet we can grow in friendship with him, by learning from him and, as he said to the first disciples he called friends, by striving to love other people as he loves us and he loves them. This is the promise, and the call, of the Christian life.
I leave you with an invitation. For the remainder of this month, put something near your bed so that when you wake up, you will be reminded that Jesus greets you as his friend. Take a moment to receive his friendship, and then rise to live your day knowing that he is with you. Each night before you fall asleep, take a moment to hold the day’s events in light of Jesus’ friendship and ask what kind of friend you were. I will do the same.
I wonder how might we live today, and all our tomorrows, if we dared to believe that Jesus was at our side, as our friend. Even more, that he calls us his friends, and counts on us to love other people as he loves us and loves them.
And at the end of May, if you’d like to reflect on what, if anything, shifted in your awareness as a result of this daily reflection, I’d love to hear from you. We can be friends to one another.