Being a Friend of Jesus: Some thoughts on friendship. John 15:12-17

Mary Blackburn, Clerk of Ministry and Counsel

Indianapolis First Friends Meeting



I would like to share a few thoughts before we enter into unprogrammed worship.  I offer these to you as a tool for reflection during the silence.  Sometimes being still can be awkward, so my hope is that these ideas will open a way to consider how radical Jesus' offer of friendship is and ways to experience it directly.

Today's scripture passage is the hallmark of Quaker identify. As many of you know, our official name is the Religious Society of Friends. The implication is, that we are the Friends of Jesus.  What does that mean to be a friend of Jesus and why does that make us a peculiar people?

When I look at a scriptural passage, I like to understand the context in which it was written. John's Gospel was the last gospel, written after the fall of the Temple in 70 CE and after many of the Jewish people were sent out of Jerusalem and resettled in the Roman cities around the Mediterranean. John is reaching out to those Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world.   

In the ancient world, true friendship was something to be treasured. Lucian, a contemporary of the author of John's gospel wrote that one would only have two or three true friends. Plutarch wrote an essay called, "How to tell a flatterer from a friend," to help his audience have a better idea of what real friendship can mean.  Much of the Roman society was based on patronage by ones social superiors and it could be difficult to know if you were being used to gain power in society.  In our modern era it can be challenging to understand the depth of friendship in Biblical times.  Many of us may have 200 or more "friends” on Facebook, but this is not the relationship that Jesus is describing in this passage.

True friends owned everything in common, according to Plutarch. Cicero, Plutarch and Lucian described that friends valued equality, integrity and truthfulness. Lucian wrote, “live with one another, but die, if need be, for each other."  The concept of a friend laying down his or her life for the other was a theme in the ancient world.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle is purported to have said,  "We need friends when we are young to keep us from error, when we get old to tend upon us and to carry out those plans which we have not strength to execute ourselves, and in the prime of life to help us in noble deeds. Two together are more efficient in thought and in action."

The Buddha, who is thought to have lived between the 4-6th Century BCE had this to say about friendship: "A true friend, he guards you when you are off guard and does not forsake you in troubles. He even lays down his life for your sake; he restrains you from doing wrong; he encourages you to do right... he reveals to you the way of heaven."

In the Hebrew, the root of the word for friendship can have multiple meanings.  It can refer to a "neighbor" or "another person".  One passage where this root word is found is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Lev 19:18.  In the Old Testament, a friendship suggests a close relationship such as an intimate family member. In Deuteronomy 13:6, this root word is found in the passage, "Your friend who is as your own soul."  This implies a level of intimacy of the highest order.

Friendship also indicates choice.  You don't get to choose your family, but you get to choose your friends. What are the qualities you value in your friendships?  Is it common values, a sense of humor, shared joys?

Contrast the relationship of friendship to that of a master and a slave.  To convey the highest majesty and honor, God is portrayed as a king.  However, the ancient kings ruled absolutely and the servants or slaves fulfilled their responsibilities out of loyalty and fear.  Punishment or death was quickly dished out if you didn't perform up to standards.

Let me read Eugene Peterson's translation of this passage:

"I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.  If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love,  That's what I've done-kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.

 I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking or planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.

 You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

 But remember the root command: Love one another."

I'm sharing these writings to illustrate the kind of relationship Jesus is offering us. Instead of a fear based relationship of Master to servant, we are invited to come into a deep friendship when all that he has is ours, that we are unified in integrity and in the mission of loving each other.  We don't live in fear, but in the freedom of having a friendship with someone who cares for us, no matter what.  The Religious Society of Friends is based on love, not fear.

So in the quiet that follows, you may choose to consider the queries in the bulletin.  If there is a message that is meant just for you, treasure it.  If you have a message that is for the meeting, please stand and share.

Bulletin Queries:

1.       When you think about friendship, what qualities come to mind?

2.      During the Unprogrammed time, use your imagination to picture what a friendship with Jesus would be like.  What would you do together?  What would you talk about?  How does it feel to be in a friendship with him?

3.      Name one thing in yourself that makes it difficult to love others.  In your imagination, talk to your friend Jesus about this trait and wait for his response.

4.      Identify one person that you know that is in need of love.  Be aware of any opportunities to provide support or encouragement.