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.
Last week, Richard Rohr’s week of Daily Meditations were on the subject of friendship. They contained some wonderful truths, some of which I’d like to share here.
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. (John 15:13–14)
Knowing Jesus is a relationship so intimate that he carries his followers’ burdens. He brings them joy. He walks beside them. In short, Jesus befriends those who follow him. And friendship with Jesus builds Christian community across cultural, social, and ethnic divisions.
A cross-cultural perspective on Jesus as friend says a lot about the meaning of community. For friendship always goes both ways. It requires mutuality. It involves give and take. Since Jesus is holding hands with the world, so to speak, then intimacy with Jesus extends far beyond personal needs. To befriend Jesus means carrying in fellowship the responsibilities of friendship that he carried.
In the context of worldwide community, being friends with Jesus is hard work. For when followers of Jesus walk beside him, he leads them in directions they would rather not go, into neighbourhoods they would rather avoid, and to meet other friends of his they might not normally know. As the Scriptures and history show, to be a friend of Jesus means loving others just as he does.
Friendship is one of God’s special gifts to humans. Remarkably, friendship is one of the terms God uses to describe the relationship He desires with us. Friendship is therefore no ordinary relationship.
The wise man says, “a friend is medicine for life.” No remedy is more powerful, effective, and distinctive in everything that fills this life than to have someone to share your every loss with compassion and your every gain with congratulation. Hence shoulder to shoulder, according to Paul, friends carry each other’s burdens [Galatians 6:2].
What I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can then see and accept in myself, in my friends, and in everything else. This is “radical grace.” This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other trusted person to see us in our imperfection and even our nakedness, as we are – rather than as we would ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and transformative mystery of grace.
For God to be good, God can be one (but we always have doubts about a lone monarch). For God to be loving, God has to be two, because love is always a relationship of giving and receiving. The real breakthrough comes when Richard of St. Victor says that for God to be joy-filled and happy, God has to be three. Delight comes, he says, from two together enjoying and rejoicing in the same thing at the same time. It is like new parents loving their new child that they cannot stop admiring. The love then flows in an eternal circle instead of back and forth between two. Each of the three takes their part in revving the engine of desire and delight.
I hope these words invite you into deeper friendship with God, yourself, others and the wider world. May you experience the gift of friendship as you continue your pilgrimage through this life. May you know what it is to receive as well as give and may you always have at least one friend in you life who knows you through and through.
Part 2 will bring some more reflection on friendship drawing on wisdom and insight from John O’Donahue.
For more from Richard Rohr go here