“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”; but it was Jesus who named them disciples and he named some of them apostles and he called them Friends. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants . . . .instead I call you friends.” (John 15: 15)
A saying with a greater significance for those who actually heard Jesus say it than for us. In those days to be a servant of God was a great privilege – a title of honour. But Jesus says “there is something greater still for those who follow me, you are my friends.” And I think he is telling us in the same breath that friendship with him brings us closer to God or more accurately, brings God nearer to us. A God who is no remote, distant potentate, away far beyond the human scene – up there alone with the stars. There is a relationship with God that is denied us with the Queen. If you are of the privileged few invited to a Palace Garden Party, you cannot reciprocate as you would with an ordinary acquaintance and invite the Queen to come to your house for tea and scones. On the other hand, God in Christ is our companion on the journey.
When you think of the motley crew Jesus chose to be his friends, God is no snob. Jesus mixed with all kinds of people. If others looked down their noses at any of them, Jesus certainly did not. There is no evidence of hurt or annoyance on his part as his contemporaries accused him of being a socialite, a party-goer, the friend of outsiders with whom no decent person would have anything to do. Or, as the gospel puts it, “a glutton and a wine drinker, friend of corrupt tax-men and outcasts”. What may be more difficult to accept is that if we are friends of Jesus, his friends become our friends – the scruffy, smelly, homeless alcoholics straight from a night’s refuge under the bridge down by the riverside; getting in the way as you try to pass them on the pavement, waiting for the off-licence to open to become even more helpless or repulsive. There are others of like ilk, you will have little difficulty in identifying them, Jesus’ friends. In the course of ministry I have been privileged to be the friend of truly, saintly folk. Alas ministry has brought me into contact some odd characters, who would not consider themselves to be friends of Jesus. I have to confess that whatever Jesus said on the friendship scene, I have found it difficult, nigh impossible to envisage then becoming my friends! A real test of faith, a test of vocation and a challenge to discipleship. Following Jesus would be easier if one could ignore the maxim that He came not to bolster the ego of the pious and self-righteous, but for the despised and rejected. We cannot ignore one important word of Jesus, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
A true story . . . . A church was engaged in a mission to the community, conducted by a visiting preacher. One afternoon the missioner and the local pastor set out on a house to house canvas, by car. The visitor noted from the map that there were three housing estates adjacent to the main road on which they were travelling. On the completion of their visit to the first community they drove on in the direction of the second estate, only to pass by it at speed to do the rounds of the third community. To the astonishment of the evangelist there was no suggestion of a return to the neglected area and no explanation given,. So the visiting preacher asked the pastor why they had not visited – and, the reply? “Oh! They are not our kind of people!”
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