In my grandmother’s day, people did not call each other by first names without permission. Sometimes that permission was not granted for years. I use the word much more freely, sometimes calling a person “my friend” after merely agreeing me once or twice on social media. To the women in my grandmother’s circle the friend designation carried a certain responsibility. Friendship meant loyalty. It meant standing up for each other and contending for another woman’s welfare if called upon. Grandma knew a lot of people. She was an extrovert before the word was invented. The word may have been invented to describe her. She knew a lot of people, but she had only a few fast friends.
People I have met who are well-known enough to have fans tell me that many of their devoted followers are quick to claim close relationship without permission. (Neither confirming nor denying anything here.) Photos — especially selfies — do lie. Six seconds in the same camera frame backstage do not a friendship make. Fans can turn on a celebrity in a minute if they feel personally disappointed by a cancelled concert or even a change in marital status. Fans think they know a famous person when in truth they do not. Most of what they perceive is either from P.R. staff or media coverage published by people who really don’t know the heart of the famous person either.
Jesus was a famous person. He spoke to crowds but he didn’t need them. He had compassion but found the mass of neediness exhausting. He knew what was in the hearts of those who wanted to use him for their own purposes. When he did not give them a political solution to their deeper spiritual problem many former “fans” turned on him.
The night before they did though, he had Passover supper with the men who knew him best. He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
A person offering friendship shares more than opinions. A friend shares his or her heart. He told them straight out who he was and what was about to happen.
The disciples didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be a friend of the Messiah. Most of them disappeared when the going got tough. One of them even betrayed him, trading the inside information he was trusted with to tell the authorities where they could find Jesus away from the crowd that could potentially get in the way or make a scene.
Betrayal is part of the risk of friendship. Being a friend means we give another person all the ammunition they need to deeply hurt us. Real betrayal only comes from those close enough to truly wound us. Jesus taught us how to be fully human by allowing himself to be vulnerable to the kind of pain only those we love can inflict.
Jesus showed them that real love means the willingness to lay your life down for a friend. He demonstrated this love by laying his life down for his friends. His action requires response. He says to us, “Real love looks like this. I gave everything for you. Are you willing to give everything for me? I call you friend. Can you call me friend knowing what it means to be a friend of the Son of God?”
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-17 NIV)
I hear him saying “I love you so much I went through hell and back for you. I offer you my friendship. Now let me ask you, are you my friend or just a fan?”