In Christian circles friendship is continually underrated in my view. Friendship isn’t often a subject deemed worthy of much discussion. For theologians and great figures in the church it seems that the idea of friendship seems too trivial and lightweight to waste our time on when put up against great ideas and theories like original sin, atonement, sacrifice, worship and discipleship.
Friendship, what has that got to do with anything?
Well as I’ve discovered since Alex died, friendship is real, concrete and absolutely necessary to stop you going insane. So on a purely practical and human level, now living on my own, I’ve found that friendship is possibly the most life enhancing thing I know. It is vital and life affirming. It is easy and comfortable when you can be relaxed in each other’s company. You share things and very importantly it is a relationship of equals.
Jesus knew that. A master and servant cannot be friends. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant doesn’t 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”
We become a friend of Jesus when we realise what God is really all about, suggesting that the way the Jews (and us) habitually think about God was wrong and Jesus had something new and vital to impart. Never forget that Jesus’ preaching was not about himself, it was about the indwelling of the divine.
“Repent, (meaning literally, go beyond or beneath your mind), the Kingdom of God is near”. That was the content of Jesus’ preaching.
Find out what he means by that phrase and you become his friend. And remember that friend ship is a relationship between equals. Jesus was a human being, with an intimate relationship with God, realised by an experience of God’s spirit at the river Jordan and that’s exactly what he wants for us, his friends. A revelation, and encounter, with the divine that dwells within all things.
Critics may say of me that I am Theocentric – God centred – rather than Jesus centred. I don’t disagree, in fact as I get older I get more and more God centred in my theology, my practice, in my life. Just like Jesus himself in fact. He was God centred too – not Jesus centred!
Who did Jesus teach us to pray to but “Our Father”. Our Father, note, not just his or my Father. If you really want to follow Jesus, then find God within yourself and that way you’ll become his friend. That is how, in my understanding you follow Jesus.
You will not find in the New Testament anywhere Jesus asking for worship. He always points away from himself and towards the Father. What he does ask for is that we follow him on that path, on the way – his way that he modelled for us.
In following the way of Jesus, we encounter the God he encountered and we realise that the character of God is one of Love. There are a lot of layers to that little four letter word, that concept. Mostly we think of love in Romantic or erotic terms and it is those things too but in the context of the New Testament, love is primarily about self-giving, giving yourself, without counting the cost or expecting anything in return. It means giving of yourself, even your very life in Jesus’ case, for your friends.
Jesus following the way of the cross then becomes the ultimate act of love for his friends. “ No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”
Giving without expecting anything in return. That is love, as well as all the other things we associate with that word. That is both the ground and the fruit we are expected to bear. Finding God within, and finding that this God is love, acceptance and forgiveness - that is the narrow path that as Jesus himself said very few people find. We can follow Jesus by finding that the kingdom of God is within you and one of the foundation stones of this kingdom is love. We follow Jesus by becoming God centred just as he was.