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. (John 15: 13-14)
In his daily meditations this last week Richard Rohr focussed on friendship. On Wednesday he wrote about the implications of having a friendship with Jesus. Thursday he wrote about “Making new friends.” On Friday, he addressed God as Friendship (note that this is different than having a friendship with Jesus.
Making friends and having friends is difficult for me. Making friends demands that I step out of my protecting shell. Embracing protection can be comfortable but it can also be limiting. Those limitations include lack of growth. They certainly don’t include listening and discernment. To listen, listen actively and deeply, requires moving out from the shell to the unprotected where I can find the love of another or possibly rejection from the Other. Both are possible. We live in a time of suspicion but we also live in a time of isolation. People search for someone with whom to share. But for many, as for me, it is difficult to share. That takes being vulnerable but the reward is great.
What is the reward. I don’t think it is “a friendship with Jesus.” Seeing, feeling or knowing Jesus as friend can be a basis for friendship in the here and now. Hearing the stories about Jesus reaching out first, to those he knew in his village and calling them to be his friends and to travel with him can inspire, especially if I reflect on the stories and the dynamic, risk taking they relate. Then the Gospel stories tell of Jesus reaching out to others: those who are cast out from their villages and communities, those who suffer from illness or who behave in an “unacceptable way.” He reaches out to the people who others see as possessed by demons. He reaches out to tax collectors. He reaches out to Mary Magdalene and to the Samaritan woman at the well. And others, including his friends (his disciples), are amazed, scandalized, and, in some cases, taught from seeing his courage. We too can learn from these stories if we spend enough time with them.
Rohr’s reflections continue on Thursday in recognizing the difficulties we may have with reaching out to others who may become new friends. He quotes Brian McLaren: “Christian mission begins with friendship, not utilitarian friendship, the religious version of network marketing…” What does McClaren mean here? He goes on to define Cristian friendship as …”friendship that translates love for neighbors in general into knowing, appreciating, liking and enjoying this or that neighbor in particular….” Perhaps it is what I have done in the past. At Trinity I would make an effort to reach out to some of the unhoused who came to Trinity to find some sustenance — through food, rest, a place to go that has indoor plumbing, privacy, water and soap, protection and, possibly some friendship. I reached out to most as a way to show others that I was not afraid to reach out. But, often, I was not genuine. I did it for show. It was utilitarian. I was using them to show others. But then there is “Big Robert.” Trinity was a home for Big Robert. He came every day and would sit on a bench in the covered patio area. Eventually I learned his name, then a bit of his story, then who his family was and to whom we could reach out if he had health issues. I saw Robert “in action” as he gradually came out of his shell. We became friends. For me that was not for show (although at times I did use my friendship with Bob to show others that I could be a friend to the unhoused).
Where did the drive to be a friend to Big Robert come from? Reading and reflecting on the stories about Jesus helped. Perhaps it was also the parables that Jesus told to us, parables that can be heard as describing God as friendship, that reached my heart and soul. God as friendship is a way of describing God as the One who gives and the One who receives and the One who is the joy-filled delight in that relationship. I was not aware of the “inspiration of Jesus” in either way but perhaps that is part of what being a Christian is about, even when I don’t realize it. Perhaps it is part of what becoming a Christian is.