I don’t know about you, but on a first, just-at-a-glance reading of this Sunday’s gospel lesson I find myself cringing at Jesus’ definition of friendship: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Eek! I am not sure I could get away with that with any of my friends nor would I appreciate my friends making their friendship conditional upon following their orders. “John, I want to be your friend, but who died and made you king!”
Of course I don’t think that is what is really going on here, but I do think that in order to get to the heart of a scripture lesson it is important to be honest about our own reactions and feelings before we can find the real truth and the motherlode of spiritual wisdom in a text. This is one of the reasons that I have enjoyed in recent years the lectio divina approach to scripture where the personal encounter with the text is as important (if not more so) than getting the one right perfect interpretation.
A too literal interpretation and gut level response to this text seems to have two definitions of friendship colliding with each other—friendship as the result of obedience and friendship as the result of mutuality. I am not opposed to obedience and following commandments from an authority figure, but I also don’t put authority figures and friends on the same list of people important to me.
But underneath this text, I think, is something more important that gets right to the heart of this Jesus thing, this Jesus way of life. This line actually reminds me of the changing relationship that I have experienced and enjoy with my own children.
My children are now hovering around the late 20’s and early 30’s. The truth is I consider my children more friends now than my children. Of course I know that they will always be my children. I still call them “kiddos” on occasion and remind them (much to their embarrassment) that they will always be my “little babies.” This is especially annoying to my 6’ 3” son.
But despite the fact that I will always have a parent/child relationship with them the quality of our relationship is more along the lines of two mutual friends. I feel less inclined to have to offer life lessons and spiritual wisdom to them than I do the desire to just share my experiences with them, listen to their experiences and trust that both of us are richer for the experience.
The funny thing about this is that I don’t think that this is just the result of them having aged and matured. I think it is more a function that they have adopted the values and have assimilated the lessons that I taught. In other words, they didn’t just grow up, get bigger and get older. They transformed the parent/child relationship into one of friendship by equaling the playing field. By adopting my values they shifted our relationship from one of obedience to one of mutuality.
Values such as compassion, kindness, generosity, respect and tolerance were central to my parenting of them. They could have chosen any profession or any hobbies or interests and I would have still considered them my friend as they grew up. But if they had dismissed the central values of our family and chosen paths that did not reflect compassion, kindness, generosity, respect and tolerance I think I would still feel like I was parenting them. As much as I would desire a mutual friendship with them, mutuality would not have been possible. My children became my friends because they got the basic lessons right. Had they not I would still only be their parent.
I like this friend business. But I don’t think I will be able to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” the same way ever again. This is heady stuff. Am I really ready to put myself on equal footing with Jesus? Am I ready to claim that I have lived up to what he commanded of me to love and lay my life down for others? Am I ready to step clear of my childhood dependency and become an adult in the faith? Am I ready to claim true mutuality with Jesus and shed that parent/child relationship with my Savior?
I am not interested in having friends who order me around. But I am very interested in a Savior whose deepest desire is that I would become his friend. I also know that I have a long way to go. And I know that Jesus is awfully patient.