"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. "
Much has been written about the value of servanthood in the Christian life; yet Jesus seems to place a priority on friendship, over and above service. If not a priority, at least it appears from this conversation, the desired outcome of service in the kingdom of God is learning what it means to be a friend of God. If discipleship means learning from a “master” how to do what the master does best, I suppose one of the relational skills we can learn from Jesus is how to be the best friend we can possibly be. Can you imagine learning how to befriend other’s the way Jesus befriends you?
It starts with hearing Jesus call you friend.
On multiple occasions, Jesus gets accused of “hanging out with the wrong crowd.” In his own words, Jesus said it this way, The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Luke 7:34.) Following the way of Jesus will lead us to the margins of society, where we can learn the true meaning of friendship by friending those whom the world de-friends.
In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle writes, “The measure of our compassion lies not in the service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.” He goes on to say, “Jesus was not a man for others. He was one with others. There is a world of difference in that. The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place—with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”.
It was Helen Keller who said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” I’m sure the paralyzed man, who was carried to Jesus on a mat by four friends, felt a similar sentiment. We all need a trusted friend who will hold the corner of our mat when we’re down or walk with us through dark valleys.
As the four men lowered their friend through the roof of a stranger’s house, Jesus marveled at the display of faith and friendship. They were innovative, enthusiastic, and determined to get their friend close to Jesus. Peering through the hole in the roof, looking down through the dust floating in the rays of sun light that now brightened every corner of the dimly lit house, they heard Jesus say to their buddy on the mat: Friend, your sins are forgiven . . . get up, take your mat and go home.
Faith and genuine friendship will carry us to a place where grace, wholeness, and light abound.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches, love your enemies. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he shows us how it’s done. In his darkest hour, Jesus prays alone while his best friends take a nap. Adding to his sorrow is the knowledge that when his enemies arrive, his friends will flee. Among the mob of enemies stands Judas, who betrays Jesus with a kiss. In that intimate space, with their faces cheek to cheek and their eyes locked, Jesus tells Judas that his deep regard for him as a friend has not wavered: Do what you came for, friend.
When Peter finally wakes up, he reacts with violence and starts brandishing his sword, cutting off the ear of a man in the mob. Jesus stops the violence, tells Peter to put away his sword, and then heals the one wounded by the insanity of hatred.
Gandhi once said, “To befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion.”
After three years of sharing life-on-life with his friends—teaching them about love and friendship, and how to live their truest life in the kingdom of God—Jesus begins to forecast the road of sacrifice that lies ahead. To help ensure they comprehend the significance of the cross, he tells them, ever-so-gently, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I believe Jesus paused for a moment, allowing his words to settle into the hearts of his disciples before he said the next sentence, which begins with the phrase: You are my friends!
The truest of friends, who pursue the purest expressions of love, will gladly travel the road of sacrifice together.
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.