Me and Jesus? We’re Just Friends
If you want to know whom you truly consider a friend, ask yourself the following question: if your car broke down by the side of the road at 2 a.m. and you knew you couldn’t call a family member, who would you call?
Or imagine you needed $500 tomorrow with no questions asked and no guarantee that the money would be repaid—who would you call?
That person is your closest and truest friend.
We have circles of friendship that are circles of increasing intimacy and trust.
On the outer circle we have acquaintances. These are people we know by name, we may know their children’s names, and when we see each other we talk about the weather and the Colts.
Then we have the circle of friends, people about whom we know more detail, perhaps we know some of the major struggles in their lives like a divorce or an addiction, and with whom we would enjoy going to the movies on Friday night or having a dinner party together.
Side note: think about how many people here at church are in the acquaintance circle and how many are in the friends circle as I have just described them.
Part of our work as Christian community is working together to move with each other from the acquaintance circle to the friends circle, with the added ingredient of spiritual intimacy.
So we not only know some of the griefs and struggles and joys of the people around us in the pews, we know how those events have impacted their faith and their growth in relationship with God.
But there is a closer circle even than the friends circle, and that is the true friends, the dearest friends, the best friends.
These are the ones that you call at 2 a.m. when you’re broken down by the side of the road.
These are the ones that can show up at your house and you don’t worry about the clutter or the fact that you’re wearing ratty old sweatpants and no makeup.
These are the ones that you simply cannot b.s. because they see right through you.
These friends are the ones we drop our masks for, and expect them to drop their masks in return.
These relationships contain the most sacred intimacy outside our immediate family relationships, and the best family relationships have these elements of friendship.
We sometimes call these people soul friends, anam cara in Gaelic.
They know the secrets and fears and joys of our inmost hearts, and we know theirs. We hold those secrets and hears and joys in our very hands, and we trust our friend to hold ours with the same care and love.
Now consider the words of Jesus in our gospel today: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. You did not choose me but I chose you.”
This intimacy and trust and lowering of barriers and defenses, this readiness to be available and willing to be there no matter the day or hour, this person whom you can call on no matter what and no matter when, this person in front of whom you can be your truest and most open self—this is not just what Jesus wants to be to us, but who Jesus wants us to be to him.
It’s not just a question of, metaphorically speaking, “Could you call Jesus if you were broken down by the side of the road at 2 a.m.? Could you ask him for $500 with no questions asked? Do you care if he sees your house cluttered and you with no makeup and hair uncombed?”
The question is also, “Could Jesus call you if his car were broken down by the side of the road at 2 a.m.? Could he ask you for $500, he needs it tomorrow and can’t promise he’ll pay it back? Does Jesus trust you enough not to care if his hair isn’t combed and his house is a mess?”
This is the kind of relationship Jesus wants with us: reciprocal trust and intimacy. And that is amazing.
Remember the old hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”?
“What a friend we have in Jesus,” we sing, “All our sins and griefs to bear.”
Well, that’s true.
But friendship is a two-way street, not a one-way street.
We as Christians seek to be friends to Jesus, to be people he can rely on, people he can trust, people he can call upon even to death and beyond.
We know he asks this of us because of what he says in our gospel today.
“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. You did not choose me but I chose you.”
Jesus is taking an enormous risk here, right on the eve of his crucifixion.
He is about to undergo the greatest ordeal of his life, facing arrest, trial, and death.
Surely it would make sense for him to continue to retain his disciples as servants.
Servants have a material obligation to remain loyal to their masters—they get paid to do it.
It’s their job to say with the master, to obey the master’s orders, to do what they’re told and stick by his side.
But Jesus elevates the disciples, and thereby us, from servants to friends.
If we are no longer servants but friends, we stay with him only because we choose to.
Our presence with him is purely out of love, not out of obligation.
Jesus did this probably knowing the disciples would fail the test, that they would run away when he needed them most, and yet Jesus called them friends anyway.
Friendship is a strangely tenuous relationship.
It’s the only relationship of its importance and intimacy that is not marked by borders or rituals.
There is no marriage ceremony to unite friends, there is no baptism, no funeral, no hiring or firing.
Friendship is a creation entirely of invisible love and unspoken commitment, fragile and ethereal in its outward signs, but when it is true, of bedrock strength that outlasts even much more formal and celebrated types of relationships.
This is what Jesus invites us to.
The notion of friendship has been somewhat cheapened by the phenomenon of Facebook friends.
I have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but how many of them do I really trust with who I actually am?
One click of a mouse does not a real friendship make.
We need a deeper definition than that.
Aristotle defines three types of friends.
There are friendships that we cultivate because they’re useful. These are what we could call connections, the relationships that we develop because of the ever-essential business-speak term “networking.”
Believe it or not, we are actually all too prone to be in this type of relationship with Jesus.
We’re friends with Jesus because of what he can do for us.
We got into this gig in pursuit of eternal life—that’s a fairly self-centered, mercenary attitude.
Jesus does not blame us for it, but if we love him we should seek to move beyond it.
The second type of friendship Aristotle identified is friendship for pleasure. These are the people we spend time with simply because we enjoy them.
This is a valuable type of friendship, and can enrich our own lives and that of our friends tremendously.
This element should absolutely be a part of our relationship with Jesus—simply enjoying him and his presence, and letting him enjoy us.
After all, the catechism identifies the central purpose of human life as follows: “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.”
But the third and most rare type of friendship that Aristotle defines is friendship for the sake of friendship itself.
This is a relationship based on a loyalty that endures even in the times when there is no pleasure or enjoyment to be found.
This is not a fair-weather friend, but an all-weather friend.
We know that we have that kind of friend in Jesus, that he will stick by us no matter what. We know that because he already did—he was so loyal to us that he chose death, gave up his very life to save us.
So what I am really getting at is that this type of friendship—the type of friend who will stick by you for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, from whom we will not be parted by death—this is the type of friend we not only have in Jesus, but the type of friend we should strive to be to Jesus.
This is another way of talking about discipleship, of talking about Christian maturity, of talking about growing up into the full stature of Christ.
So ask yourself: are you Jesus’ friend?
Could he ask you for $500, no questions asked and no repayment guaranteed, and you’d hand over the money in a heartbeat?
Can he show up at your house uninvited and not looking his best, and you welcome him with open arms?
Can he call you at 2 a.m. to come pick him up because his car broke down?
Can you give your life for him?
Wait—those questions got really serious, really fast.
Give your life for him?
Well, that’s what he did for us, because he is our friend.
And what is life, what is death, between friends?
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