Jesus Creates Friendship

Part 5 of a Register series on friendship.

Jesus and his friends at the Last Supper.
Jesus and his friends at the Last Supper. (photo: Wikipedia)

One of the titles of Abraham among Muslims is “Khalilul’Alllah” (The Friend of God).

It’s a title that demonstrates how much the Islamic tradition depends on the Jewish and Christian tradition from which it springs, for the title echoes James 2:23, which likewise tells us that Abraham … was called the friend of God.

And that is because Jesus has the habit of creating friendships wherever he goes.

David, in the Old Testament, had one of the storied friendships out of antiquity: his friendship with Jonathan, who was willing to sacrifice his own shot at the throne and even to risk his life when his paranoid father, Saul, sought David’s blood.

David, like Abraham, stands out because there aren’t a lot of Old Testament figures who are marked by the prominence of friendship in their lives. David anticipates such figures out of Christendom as Robin Hood. David, by force of personality, creates around himself a band of “mighty men,” just as Robin of Locksley creates a band of Merry Men.

In their love for David — clearly, the love that is friendship — they achieve great deeds of valor on his behalf. They hide out from Saul’s persecuting fury, just as Robin and his men do daring deeds while avoiding the Sheriff of Nottingham.

It’s the sort of thing that gets written down in memoirs and savored by old men — and, when they have passed, by their children and grandchildren. It’s the sort of thing, in fact, that comprises a lot of the matter of 1 Samuel and 1 Chronicles.

Jesus, the Son of David, also has this Davidic knack for inspiring friendship and calling his followers into a band of brothers ready to do great things. He does it with his own band of Mighty Men called the apostles (though, of course, as the New Testament makes clear, they are not made of mighty stuff when he finds them).

The Gospels show him uniting those men in friendship with himself and, through him, with one another. As in all true friendships, their eyes are turned not to themselves, nor to each other (that is eros), but to the common object they all love: That common object is Jesus himself. And so powerful is the friendship he inspires that people with nothing whatever in common — a despised tax collector, a zealot, some fishermen, a mystic, a couple of hotheads, a skeptic, various other riffraff — find themselves inexorably drawn in until they reach the moment when he — very mysteriously — tells them, “No longer do I call you servants; for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

And then he is arrested. Yet the mystery of his power to beget friendship does not stop even then. The Gospels drive home the point that Jesus’ power to engender friendship continues to work even in hearts blackened by sin and darkness.

So just as the Herodians (partisans of the foreign puppet king Herod Antipas) and the Pharisees (mortal enemies of the Herodians) find fellowship in their common hatred of Jesus (Mark 3:6), so Luke tells us that after Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas in the hope of getting rid of the prisoner that way, Herod had a good laugh, dressed him in a mockery of royal robes and sent him back. He then adds, “And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other” (Luke 23:12).

In short, Jesus’ power to create friendship is even attested to by his enemies.

And still more is it attested by his friends, who went on to transform the world by their friendship in a fellowship of sacrifice. Of which, more next time.

Mark Shea is a Register columnist and blogger. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of his series.