John 15: 9-17
There’s a story of an old African-American woman who’d been a servant for 70 years to one woman. Now the mistress had died, and a neighbour said as she tried to comfort this old black maid, “I’m so sorry to hear of Miss Lucy’s death. You must really miss her. I know you were dear, old friends.”
“Yes ma’am,” said the maid, “I am sorry she died. But we weren’t friends.” “But you were friends,” the neighbour said, “I know you were. I’ve seen you laughing and talking together lots of times.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s so,” came the reply. “We’ve laughed together, and we’ve talked together, but we were just acquaintances. You see, Miss Ruth, we never shed any tears together. Folks got to cry together before they’re friends.
Real friendship is to be valued in our society. We’re more mobile – often moving around because of jobs so that keeping up friendships can be more difficult. Unfortunately, these days, the term “friend” is often reduced to “acquaintance” and what makes a deep relationship such as empathy, support and mutual struggle are lost.
I saw an advert on Facebook this week for a lovely card that defined friendship. Two old women were pictured on it and underneath it said” When there’s sunshine we celebrate together, When there’s storms we help each other through, When life is ordinary we keep each other company…..” Real friendship!
When Jesus uses the language of friendship to speak to his followers it feels very special. He says “I don’t call you servants any longer…I have called you friends”. The disciples are asked to look at their relationship with Jesus, who will soon leave them, in a new light – in a relationship of closeness and mutual support.
However, this friendship is not completely symmetrical; although he calls the disciples ‘friends’, Jesus is never called ‘friend’ by them. The relationship involves Jesus giving commands, and the disciples obeying—but this obedience flows from love and understanding, and never from blind obedience. What else makes for friendship? According to Jesus, expectations are involved. “You are my friends if you do what I command you…And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.
But even as simple a statement as that could lead some to misunderstanding if we take it out of context. Friendship with Jesus is not simply about following some rules, as that sentence might lead us to believe. Remember what the command is: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In other words Jesus is saying, if you want to be my friend, be a friend to my other friends. That sounds so simple. But we know it’s not.
We’ve not come upon this relationship with Jesus by accident. Jesus reminded the twelve in that Upper Room, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”. The decision was his – he chooses his followers. But they’re chosen not as a privilege or for being special but in order to follow Jesus’ command to “bear much fruit”.
During the Vietnam War, a rural village had been bombarded with mortar shells and some shells landed on an orphanage run by missionaries. The missionaries and a few children were killed outright. Several other children were wounded, including an 8-year-old girl who had multiple injuries and was bleeding profusely.
In response to a runner sent to a near-by town, a young Navy doctor and nurse came with only their medical kits. The young girl was in critical condition and in need of an immediate blood transfusion. Blood typing showed that neither American had the right blood. However, several of the uninjured children did.
The Navy doctor spoke some pidgin Vietnamese and the nurse some high school French. The children spoke no English, but some French. Using what language they had and sign language, they tried to explain to the frightened children that unless they could replace some of the girl’s blood, she was going to die. They asked if anyone would be willing to give blood to help. Wide-eyed silence met their request. After several moments of soul-searching, a little hand went slowly up, dropped down, then went up again.
“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed the nurse in French, “What is your name?” “Heng,” came the reply.
Heng was quickly laid on a pallet, his arm swabbed with alcohol, the needle carefully inserted in his vein. After a moment he shuddered, covering his face with his free hand.
“Is it hurting, Heng?” asked the doctor. Heng shook his head no, but he kept sobbing, his eyes tightly closed, his fist in his mouth to stifle his sobs. Something was very wrong.
Just then a Vietnamese nurse arrived to help. Seeing Heng’s distress, she spoke to him in Vietnamese, listened to him, quickly answered him, stroking his forehead, soothing and reassuring him. After a few moments, Heng stopped crying, opened his eyes, and a look of relief spread over his face. Looking up, the Vietnamese nurse explained to the Americans, “Heng thought he was dying. He misunderstood you. He thought you asked him to give all his blood to save the little girl.”
“But why should he be willing to do that?” asked the Navy nurse. The Vietnamese nurse repeated the question to Heng, who answered simply, “Because she is my friend.”
To be a friend of Jesus means we have to keep his commandments and love as he loved. We are chosen, but we have been given free will – to accept or reject Christ for who he really is. He is love. This sort of friendship often requires sacrifice of some sort, and, in some rare cases, even the supreme sacrifice. As Jesus said in verse13 – “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”