A while back an Italian friend of mine observed that we Americans grossly underestimate the power of friendship. We focus in on our projects and plans individually and even collectively as a people (we like our meetings to give us a sense of productivity), while often failing to notice the gift and possibilities found within friendship itself. I think that my friend is correct in this assessment. Certainly, we Americans value friendship in life yet I do believe we often underestimate the basic human need for friendship, how it shapes who we are and all the good that friendship, by its very nature, can accomplish in life and even in our larger world.
Since my friend’s observation I have even found myself wondering about the role of friendship in our Lord’s life. Correct me if I am wrong but I cannot call to mind a book that truly explores this dynamic in the life of Jesus. We know that Jesus had friends (Martha, Mary and Lazarus seem to hold a special place for our Lord) and we know, through the gospel accounts, that Christ continually gathered people around himself. We often reflect on how encounter with Christ and discipleship to Christ transformed the apostles and disciples and how it transforms people throughout history (ourselves included) but how did our Lord’s own honest human need for friendship affect him and his own understanding of himself and his mission?
Any honest examination of the human condition reveals that friendship is a prime mover in the development of the understanding of a human person. We can all probably point to experiences in friendship (some truly positive and some truly negative) that have helped to shape who we ourselves are and have brought insight and understanding. We hold in the mystery of the incarnation that Jesus is fully human and fully God. We profess that the divinity in Christ has not swallowed up his humanity nor has his humanity excluded the divinity. If Christ is “fully human” then isn’t a part of being human this amazing and complex dynamic of friendship?
I think that we often keep Christ removed. I think we are often more comfortable with Jesus as a stoic philosopher/savior whom we can learn from and receive salvation through but who had no real human needs or, if he did, transcended them in such a way that those needs were mitigated almost to the point of being nonexistent.
I do not believe that this does justice to our Lord, to the incarnation nor even to ourselves in the long run. To be human means to grow in awareness; to be human means to be affected by relationship with another. Yes, the foundational relationship that Christ had (which we see time and time again in the gospel) was his relationship with the Father but relationship with the Father does not negate relationship with other people and often it is through relationships with other people (friendship included) that God’s will is revealed in one’s life. I think of the not-so-subtle nudging of Mary at the wedding in Cana that, perhaps, helped our Lord to realize that yes, the time had come to begin his mission in earnest. I wonder how often those times spent in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus helped our Lord to clarify his own thoughts and his own understanding. It seems that Peter, James and John had a unique relationship with our Lord even among his most immediate group of followers.
Friendship is one of the most beautiful gifts of the human life. Why would our Lord and Savior be denied this gift? It makes no sense that he would but often it has remained an area unexplored. We live in a time where factors and influences continually separate and isolate people. It is my belief that people are hungering for true and authentic friendship. I think that it is time that we followers of Christ earnestly explore the graced reality of friendship in the life of our Lord.
As Church, we are now entering into Holy Week and it is right that we go with our Lord to Jerusalem and here I would add emphasis to “go with” and specifically I would say, “go with as friends”. The gospel invites us to walk this way in the gift of friendship with Christ. There is a Lenten hymn that says that Jesus walked this way alone and that is true to some extent but we as Church are now called to walk this way to Jerusalem in the ever-deepening reality of friendship with Christ and we are invited to make note of how friendship and honest human contact touched our Lord on his journey to the cross. There are friends who loved our Lord yet turned away in fear. There is the mother who walked every step with her son. There is the friend who betrayed our Lord. There is the man who allowed a place for our Lord to be buried and there is one who came to our Lord under the cover of night. There is the woman who anointed our Lord in preparation for his burial. There is the man who helped our Lord to carry his cross. There are the women who met our Lord and wept for him on the street. There are the women and the one male disciple who stood with Mary at the cross. Where are we on this journey? How did these moments touch the heart of our Lord?
In Holy Week, we walk to Jerusalem with our Lord and we walk the way in friendship.