Two smiling parishioners share a hug during Sunday service at Trinity Church

Friendship Is at the Heart of the Gospel

“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 15:15

A Look Ahead to Sunday’s Readings

In our scripture reading for Sunday, Jesus makes a bold pronouncement: “I have called you friends.” Here, Jesus makes a claim of intimacy with his followers. Those who love him are not indebted to him or under his thumb, rather Jesus invites us into a mutual relationship, one that will “bear fruit that will last.”

But what does this mean? Since Jesus is God incarnate in the world, we might wonder how we, mere humans, can be in a mutual relationship with the God of the universe, who knows and see all things.

In the Hebrew scriptures, God calls Abraham, the father of our faith, “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8). Like all healthy friendships, though, Abraham’s relationship with God has its ups and downs. Abraham has to wait a long time for his prayers to be answered (Genesis 12–21), he has to have faith even when God’s commands seem paradoxical, and he even negotiates with God (Genesis 18), asking God to change God’s mind. This is a real relationship, forged in real time — a friendship suffused with both tenderness and obligation.

The friendship God offers us in Jesus is no different. It implies responsibilities and honesty. When we love our friends, we tell them the truth — even when it is difficult. We stand up for them when others abandon them and hash it out when disagreements arise. We listen with curiosity and compassion instead of jumping to fix a problem. In a long-term friendship, we can pick up a conversation right where we left off, even if we have not spoken in a while.

Jesus implies the friendship he is offering is not transactional, but it does come with obligations. Just as Jesus makes sacrifices for his followers out of love, so must we be willing to “lay down our lives for our friends.” While we tend to think Jesus is speaking here of his own great sacrifice — and this is certainly true — it is also implicit that the kind of friendship Jesus presupposes includes everyday relinquishments. You see the movie your friend wants to see, you listen as they talk through the latest drama in their lives, you pick them up from the hospital, you text to see how they are doing.

Jesus, who is in very nature God, also checks in on us, exhibits patience when we flounder, and loves us despite our idiosyncrasies. Friendship with God implies we love others as God has loved us. This is what it means to “bear fruit” in the world, as we walk beside God in deep companionship.

Read all of Sunday’s scriptures.

Here are five ways to think about what friendship requires of us:

Bible Commentary  Friendship is risky. “When we give of ourselves to each other,” writes Ignatian spirituality author Andy Otto, “we glimpse into the eternal love that Christ promises us through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection.”

Spirituality  Is trading “the fear of God” for friendship a new idea? Not really, writes Jesuit spiritual director William A. Barry. The idea has an ancient heritage. While fear has closed many off from a close relationship with God, “friendship with God leads to a wider and wider circle of friends as we realize that God’s desire for friendship includes all people.”

Politics  “When we begin to talk of ‘those whom Jesus loves’ we soon realize that this means everyone, and most especially those who have been oppressed, ostracized, and threatened with death by the System,” writes religious studies professor Robert Williamson, Jr. “This would seem to mean, in the context of the modern U.S., that our Black brothers and sisters are especially beloved by God.”

Practical Theology  Hospital chaplain and self-professed introvert Dr. Natasha Huang reflects on building friendship with yourself (your past, present, and future), with God, and with others: “Friendship, as we have seen, can be strengthened by a deep faith in God’s presence in our lives, a presence which gives us the courage to face all our emotions and experiences as sacred and acceptable.”

Music  In “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” singer-songwriter Randy Newman speaks of the simple things that define true friendship: care, support, mutuality, and lasting regard.

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