Friendship With | In the Lord

“I do not call you servants any longer, for a servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead I call you friends, since I have made known to you everything that I have learned from my Father. Friendship with God brings the gift of immortality to those who accept it” (From the treatise “Against the Heresies” by St Irenaeus).

Jesus, the divine Teacher, received love from the Father and gave of it freely to those around him. He received nurturing and care from the Blessed Mother, and he nurtured in return. He loved all of creation, every man, and every woman, as only God can truly, deeply love. He is Teacher, Healer, Lover, and Friend to each and every one of us – and there is so much he desires to share with us from all he learned from the Father.

We know that we are not made to be alone, but we do not always quite know how to find, to be, to love another person as a friend. Not just the type of friendship that the world suggests, but one that is guided by the Holy Spirit and has heaven as its goal. Many of us have had friendships that were a source of growth and discovery, even amidst the normal differences and inevitable misunderstandings. We have also had friendships that revealed (often bringing with it a slight undertone of shame) some of our limitations and sins: jealousy, possession, greed, manipulation, impatience, anger, or vendetta.

What if we were to begin every relationship by first examining how Jesus lived his friendships? Two encounters that scripture offers, The Transfiguration at Mount Tabor and the Anointing at Bethany, are richly layered examples of how Jesus loved his friends.

Mount Tabor

Clearly Jesus loved all of his apostles, but how beautiful it is to see that when he revealed himself in splendor, he brought only three with him. From all the people he encountered, he chose seventy-two; from the seventy-two he chose twelve; from the twelve, he chose three; from the three, John was the beloved. A person who tends to prefer to keep intimate parts of their life to themselves might be awestruck to see that Jesus had seventy-two disciples that he shared his life with (Sirach 6:6a). A person who tends to share intimate parts of their life with almost anyone who is available to listen might be moved to see that Jesus only brought three apostles with him (Mt 17:1).

Why would he take James, John, and Peter with him up to Mount Tabor? Do we cringe at the idea that he loved them more than the others? We might be tempted to then think that we would be amongst the remaining nine apostles who were loved “less.” What if it wasn’t so much about quantity, but quality? He chose those three apostles to share a deeper quality of relationship with, one of intimate friendship.

Imagine the scene as if you were there: what would it have been like to go on a hike with Jesus? Would he have chosen an easy path and walked at a slow pace as he spoke with his friends, or something a little bit more strenuous as a physical challenge to delight them? Did they race up a part of the mountain to have a moment of “play” and alleviate the difficulties in their ministry? What would you do if you were next to Jesus walking up that mountain? Can you imagine it?

The Transfiguration was not just a moment where Peter, James, and John saw Jesus as his “face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light,” but also where the voice of God the Father was revealed to them. It is entirely plausible to imagine that the three apostles could have rejected what they saw and written off the voice they heard as some kind of strange dream-like “vision” caused by the exertion of climbing up the mountain. The writer of the book of Sirach says to “let those who are friendly to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not be quick to trust them. For there are friends when it suits them, but they will not be around in time of trouble” (Sirach 6:6-8). Jesus brought his confidants with him, and in great vulnerability and with great trust showed to them his true identity, which was then confirmed by the Father: “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5c). He entrusted himself to them after having spent months (years) getting to know their hearts, knowing very well that only John the beloved would be around in time of trouble (Sirach 6:8b) at the foot of his cross. Why do such a thing?

Love.

Love costs.

Love is risky and sometimes difficult to give or receive, but the sixth chapter of Sirach continues with one of the most cited passages on friendship: Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be (Sirach 6:14-17). We can find solace in the assurance that in taking the risk, we will live the rewards.

  • Is it hard for me to be vulnerable with my friends? Am I afraid to take risks like Jesus did?
  • Do I share my heart with many, or with hardly anyone at all?
  • Do I affirm my friend’s identity as a beloved son/daughter of God?

Bethany

The Gospel of John tells us that just a little less than a week before Jesus suffered his Passion, he went to Bethany to be with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. We do not know how often they were able to see each other as Jesus traveled with his apostles healing and teaching in the villages, but we do know that before the “end” he wanted to spend an evening with them.

What a gift! Did he share with them, privately, that he was going to suffer but that they should never lose hope? Did he thank them for their time and their presence and all the ways they loved (and perhaps even teased) him over the years? These are conversations that we do not have access to, but what John did write down is that Mary anointed Jesus. Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil (John 12:1-3).

This gesture has so much significance, both cultural and religious, and while the Gospel of Matthew and Mark say that she poured the oil on his head, hinting to a regal/messianic anointing, John mentions Jesus’ feet. Just a few chapters later, Jesus washes the feet of his apostles at the Last Supper. What can we learn from this encounter between Jesus and Mary of Bethany? For love of Jesus, “wasting” a costly perfume was worth it. It was not a waste at all, in fact. Mary was able to show Jesus that she truly understood that he was the Messiah, and that she would serve him (usually a servant washed feet) with the most precious things she possessed: her whole life. This gesture said, “Yes I know who you are, my friend, and you are worth so much more than the most costly of perfumes.” When Judas the Iscariot complained about the waste, Jesus said “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial” (John 12:4-7). Maybe Mary did not use all the oil, and Jesus alluded to one of the greatest acts of mercy: almsgiving or burying the dead.

She knew her friend, and her friend knew her.

Friendship with | in the Lord

In the end, nurturing our very own friendship with Jesus is the greatest fountain from which we can draw the grace and virtue we need to love our earthly friends as he loves them. In other words, friendship with the Lord allows for us to have friendships in the Lord with those he has put on our path. St. Irenaeus wrote that friendship with God brings the gift of immortality to those who accept it, and how beautiful it would be if we could share that immortality (eternal life) with those “one in a thousand” that God has gifted us with.

  • How do I live my most intimate friendships?
  • Am I willing to “spend” myself first on my relationship with God so that I can in turn be a gift to those I call friend?

Suggested Concrete Resolution:

Prayerfully reflect on the questions above and on those that this meditation stirs in my heart regarding my friendships and offer all my limitations and shortcomings to God. Seek the sacrament of reconciliation so as to be filled with the grace necessary to take a few steps closer to holy and virtuous friendship in the Lord. If I am not used to doing so, confide in my friend(s) an intention that they can pray for as a way to grow in intimacy through the Lord. If I am aware that I share too much with too many, pray with Jesus who discerned which three apostles to bring with him to Mount Tabor.

Resources: Friendship in the Lord by Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., John Paul II’s letter on Givenness.

This month’s meditation is by Sr. Briana, AVI.

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