(following on from http://alalohwhydee.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/friendship/)
There are a few people in history that help us to define another angle on friendship. Jesus himself spoke to his closest disciples and told them that they were his friends. They never sent the equivalent of a facebook friend request because it was advantageous for them to do so nor because he was the best looking stud around. In fact it was to the contrary. Actually it was unprovoked by them. It was totally Jesus’ idea. That was a radical suggestion and a total departure from theological understanding in that day.
In the Old Hebrew texts there are also some very provocative suggestions of the friendship that seems to be of the kind God would align to. Some of the few examples are backed by a little detail, others are just hints that leave me wondering what it actually meant. For example, Abraham was called a friend of God. Moses it says, was spoken to by God as a man speaks to his friend. Some of the dialogue between the two of them is very unusual indeed. There are other scattered hints as well.
Another one of the characters who defined real friendship was a man who lived at the same time as Jesus around 2000 years ago. His name was John and he was the son of an old Hebrew priest. He never went into the priesthood in any official capacity as we could tell or as was the custom of a first born to a priest of that day. Instead it seems he led a pretty much unusual, somewhat rough, wild and reclusive existence. He was by all accounts a very fiery character, not one most would associate with cuddly feelings and nice convenient friendship as we seem to define it these days. This John lived out in the desert and went about telling people that the long awaited messiah, the saviour of the world, was coming very soon and that they must prepare themselves for this. He never used vague flowery words but told all to stop living evil, wasteful lives and publicly get baptised in water as a sign of washing the filth of evil from off of them. It was more a “shape up, or ship out” type of press release. He never stopped there but then proceeded to tell them to live lives in keeping with this public act. On top of all this he was particularly feisty and pointed towards the religious leaders of the day – the equivalent of our present pastors, evangelists and religious TV broadcasters. He also spoke out against the evil social and political situation of the day and was apparently unafraid of the ruling powers at the time, saying the same to them without holding back. He even took on the dictator of the day because of his immorality. It was for this kind of thing that he was eventually locked up in a state prison.
One day John saw Jesus coming towards him as he was preaching and baptizing in the Jordan river. Jesus came to be baptized by John and John was somewhat confused, reluctant and tried to resist, even humbling himself by publicly revealing that this Jesus was the one he was told to prepare the people for. He re-emphasised that he himself was not the messiah but that he was just a lowly servant sent to facilitate the messiah’s coming. He declared that he was not even worthy of untying the smelly sandals that Jesus wore. His claim was clearly that this Jesus was the awaited one.
Some of John’s disciples came a little later to him concerned that Jesus was now also drawing many converts. One can only presume that they were threatened because it may have seemed that some or even many of John’s disciples were now leaving to follow this Jesus. Instead of accepting and responding to their concerns John simply but clearly declared that he was merely the friend of the bridegroom and NOT the bridegroom and that he was happy and excited just to hear the voice of the bridegroom. Here John introduces the concept of friendship between him and Jesus.
It’s an interesting picture he paints for them and us. And it clearly rattles us now as it did to them then. John spoke of being a friend of the bridegroom. The picture suggests from the tradition of the day that the bride is prepared for the bridegroom (of who is Jesus, by John’s own declaration) and the friend of the bridegroom is sort of like our best man at modern western weddings.
Now usually the best man is a trusted, responsible person to the bridegroom. One who is honoured and entrusted with the purity and preparation and even protection of the bride. A real friend, not a casual colleague and clearly not a Facebook type of acquaintance. Even in our day a real friend should never in any way access the bride for personal gain in any way. The bride is betrothed to the bridegroom and the best man serves the bride and groom selflessly in this process. Instead of deriving personal pleasure his joy is in supporting and facilitating the full pleasure and intent of his friend the bridegroom … as his “best man” … his friend – in responsible honour and service for and towards the marriage of the bridegroom to his betrothed bride (wife to be).
To my mind this suggests an interpretation and concept of friendship that thrusts things into a whole different league. As I have suggested, one does not search for this kind of friend on a social network like Facebook or Twitter. If one does it is plain foolishness, vanity, perhaps even extremely dangerous.
We tend to get such personal and social affirmation by the number of friends we have. Perhaps this seems to make us feel like we are popular and well-liked. But John’s example though perhaps a tad radical according to my interpretation suggests that it is more than just service that he was called to but personal sacrifice. “He must increase, I must decrease” he said. “He must become greater, I must become less” is how other interpretations go.
As Jesus’ public profile and impact increased John’s dwindled steadily. Eventually he was imprisoned because of his outspoken statements and his last days were in darkness, frustration and even deep personal doubt.
In a short while John was unceremoniously murdered. He never died on the front line as a triumphant warrior in a hail of bullets as he led the charge against the enemy. He died alone in a dark, damp prison cell. He probably heard the lock turn and was confused as to why the guards rushed in and forcefully held him down and bound him tight. He probably never even saw the blade rise and fall as it severed his neck from his shoulders. Chances are he never even knew his death was as a result of some young girls provocative, alluring dance and a thoughtless promise made by an egotistical, vain and foolish politician.
Just before this, while John was still alive and in prison and possibly extremely doubtful, confused and even despairing of his own sanity Jesus gave him the highest praise and accolade any man of the time could be given. Jesus himself called him the greatest man ever to have lived who was born of a woman.
It’s an interesting story which is not fully clear in so many of it’s detailed meanings or even implications but to my mind the stark contrast of this relationship and the superficial friendships we practice and seek after in our day and in our social networking is profoundly disturbing.