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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Scripture Reading: John 1:43–51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (NRSV)

“What a friend we have in Jesus.”

So goes the old favorite gospel hymn that has brought comfort and solace to generations of Christians. There are numerous references to friendship in relation to Jesus in the New Testament. In today’s text we see Jesus making friends with two men who will become part of “the twelve”—the disciples, Jesus’ friends.

Friendship has “a complex yet rich history,” notes Gregory Jones, as a topic of discussion in the Christian tradition. This is mainly because friendship has a mutuality that is inherent in its makeup, and for some Christians true Christian love (in the Greek, agape) can have no call for a response to the love given, often citing the command to “love our enemies” as the proof of that.

This seems like a rather harsh and limiting understanding of love, which places friendship outside the economy of Christian experience. This is particularly so when Jesus often cites friendship in the context of his own ministry, even calling the disciples “not servants but friends” (John 15).

In my experience friendship is a central part of the experience of living in Christian community and is a kind of laboratory for learning how to love in a way that is not excluding but leaves one open to living into the call to agape.

Indeed when we ordain pastors, elders, and deacons, they are asked, “Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry?”

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. Amen.
(From the hymn by Joseph Scriven)

Reflection written by Calum I. MacLeod,
  Executive Associate Pastor and Head of Staff

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