A Friendly Musing
I have a teacher at my school who was actually hired on the very day I visited the school after being appointed Assistant Principal. In fact, she was the very first interview I sat in on. It was clear she knew her stuff regarding academics and pedagogy. Her references praised her. She was an easy choice to offer a job to.
What no one knew (as some things just do not show up in an interview) is her personality and interaction with others – especially students.
This teacher is gregarious and joyful. She is more than a little “over the top” and perhaps a tiny bit crazy. She sees every student as hers - it does not matter what grade level or class. Every year while I am trying to learn the staff’s names, she already has every students name memorized – but it is not just that she knows them - it as if she has written them on her heart. She knows about their likes and dislikes and their families.
Fortunately, this quality of writing students’ names on hearts and getting to know them personally is a quality many of those I work with possess.
However, this particular teacher takes it to a new level. She tells every kid in the building that they are her BFF (Best Friend Forever.) She calls every kid her favorite. She tells each of them they are number one. She encourages them to be “golden shining stars” and makes every kid feel like a winner. She builds trusts with students and parents. And although she is loud (you can hear her all over the building) when you listen you discover that inside that loudness is great love.
She has admittedly struggled with social distancing. Prior to the pandemic you could not get by her without a hug or high five. She attended baseball games and swim meets and tennis matches and performances. Recently she said she literally aches in not being able to reach out and touch students. She says she hates online meetings as she wants to be in the room so folks can feel how much she cares for them.
Yet in spite of this new normal of social distancing we have in place, she somehow still makes everyone feel they are the most special person she knows. I truly marvel at how she can tell three kids in a row, all of whom heard her say that they are each her best friend, and every kid really believe it as true! (Perhaps because it is.)
What made me think of her was that scripture passage from John where Jesus calls his disciples friend.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 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.” - John 15:12-15 NRSV
Associate Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs and the A. H. Shatford Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Rev. Dr. Gail O’Day in writing for the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University says the following -
Contemporary Christian piety tends to place words like “sin,” “redemption,” “atonement,” “justification,” “repentance,” and “born again” at the center of conversations about what it means to live out the offer of salvation made available through the life and death of Jesus Christ. “Friendship” does not figure prominently in such a theological world, since friendship is normally relegated to the secular realm, as exemplified by the prominence of friends as the pivot of plots in television shows and movies. Yet as the quote from the Gospel of John shows, nothing could be farther from the truth. For Jesus, friendship is the ultimate relationship with God and one another.
One of the most common verbs for “love” in Greek is phileō; the Greek word for friend, philos, comes from this verb. In the New Testament a “friend” is immediately understood as “one who loves.” This fundamental connection between love and friendship is an essential starting point for reclaiming friendship as a resource for faith and ethics for contemporary Christians.
The idea that Jesus is our friend I believe is given lip service at best in our modern world. We sentimentalize it but do not really live it. We sing What a Friend we have in Jesus but in truth we really do not understand what Jesus is saying and all that friendship with Christ and each other as Christians entails.
You see friendship for Jesus was a serious commitment. In Jesus time, friendship was a call to sacrifice and laying down one’s life for another. In fact, Jesus’s call to lay down a life for a friend was not new. Aristotle, Plato and Lucian had all discussed this idea in their writings. Jesus could have been quoting any of these philosophers’ word for word in his conversation with his 12 disciples. It was only centuries later when friendship became a relationship of quid pro quo or even just folks who were a casual acquaintance.
Jesus of course is the very model of this self-sacrificing friendship. He chose to give his life for us – his friends. He demonstrated his intent to do so it in activities like the washing of feet, the serving of the bread and cup, and the willingness to step forward in the Garden of Gethsemane and be quickly arrested so that no one else might be hurt.
And he did this expecting nothing in return except that we love as he loved. Of course, to love in this way requires us to be in an authentic relationship with one another. To give of ourselves with our whole being. We are not just to talk the language of friendship but live it out. We are to love as Christ loved which is perhaps the craziest statement of John’s Gospel especially when we realize that such a love requires us to put others first even to the point of giving our life.
Jesus came and, in his sacrifice, became each of our BFF’s. Like the teacher I mention he calls each of us his number one winner while encouraging us to be golden shining stars by loving other. He indeed wants each of us to be his number one best friend. All we need do is believe it and the act in love to others because of it.
In this season of giving let us give boldly. Let us give sacrificially. Let us give love – just as Christ gave his love to us.
To conclude her essay Rev. Dr. O’Day says these words –
Jesus gave everything to his friends—his knowledge of God and his own life. Jesus is our model for friendship—because he loved without limits— and he makes it possible for us to live a life of friendship—because we have been transformed by everything he shared with us. Through friendship we come to know God and through friendship we enact the love of God. We can risk being friends because Jesus has been a friend to us.
Amen and Amen