The Call and Path to Friendship with Christ
Friendship is so important that Jesus seems to hold the beautiful word, friend, in reserve. Given that a friend is another self (Ps 55:13 NAB; Sir 6:17), only at the end of fully revealing the truth about Himself and His mission can this word take on its full meaning. However, it is only following His disciples’ failure at being His faithful friends that they are sufficiently humble to receive the Holy Spirit and so become Jesus’ true friends.
The Book of Sirach anticipates the dynamics of Jesus’s friendship with Peter.
When you gain a friend, gain him through testing, and do not trust him hastily. For there is a friend who is such at his own convenience, but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.… And there is a friend who is a table companion, but will not stand by you in your day of trouble. In prosperity he will make himself your equal …; but if you are brought low he will turn against you, and will hide himself from your presence (Sir 6:7–12).
Jesus gains Peter’s friendship by testing it. There is nothing at all artificial about this testing; it is inscribed in Jesus’ fate. Peter is anything but a friend in Jesus’ day of trouble. He is Jesus’ table companion at the Last Supper, but does not stand by Him when He is brought low. Peter follows Jesus at a distance (Mt 26:58; Mk 14:54; Lk 22:54), hiding from His presence out of fear of being drawn into His destiny. He turns against Him and denies Him.
At the Last Supper, Peter makes a (premature) profession of friendship: “I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:37). This declaration that he would rather die with Jesus than to live without him bears witness to a fundamental human experience of friendship. St. Augustine expresses this innate esteem for friendship, when a friend’s death causes him to remember the philosophers’ writings about friendship:
… nor could my soul exist without him …
I wondered still more that I, who was to him a second self, could live when he was dead. Well did one say of his friend, “Thou half of my soul” (Horace), for I felt that my soul and his soul were but one soul in two bodies (Ovid); and, consequently, my life was a horror to me, because I would not live in half. And therefore, perchance, was I afraid to die, lest he should die wholly whom I had so greatly loved.
But Augustine cannot hide from his own keen introspection. He detects in himself a love of self that attenuates the philosophers’ ideal of friendship. “I was more unwilling,” he recalls, “to lose it than him,” (the “it” referring to his own grief-stricken life). Inspecting the movements of his soul, Augustine envies those who rise to the heights of friendship and “would gladly have died one for another, or both together, it being worse than death to them not to live together.” Augustine cannot see this quality of pure friendship in himself:
But there had sprung up in me some kind of feeling, too, contrary to this, for both exceedingly wearisome was it to me to live, and dreadful to die, I suppose, the more I loved him, so much the more did I hate and fear, as a most cruel enemy, that death which had robbed me of him.
Looking back at himself with the eyes of faith, Augustine thanks God for having purified him of the self-love that prevented him from being a real friend at that time. Like Peter when he proclaimed his friendship for Jesus, Augustine loved the idea of friendship but could not live it.
True friendship is based on the full truth about God and man, fully revealed in Christ and His mission. “I call you friends,” Jesus says, “for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). The heart of what Jesus makes known is His own suffering and death, which is the center of the Father’s plan. This is what Augustine and Peter, and all of us, must understand in order to be Christ’s friends.
Because of sin, there is no such thing as a life without days of trouble, without being brought low. The Good News is that, by the power of God’s grace, friendships can endure dark, low, troubling days. As St. Paul puts it:
Who shall separate us from the love [friendship] of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love [friendship] of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35–39).
Tribulation, distress, and persecution do separate Peter from his Friend because he is not yet free of inordinate self-love. He does not yet understand the central mystery, that it is “necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory” (Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23).
Peter thinks himself a friend, but he does not yet understand that friendship with Jesus is a gift: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16). Thinking that he already has a friendship with Jesus, which he has chosen, Peter is not disposed to receive this gift. Therefore, he must be humbled by discovering just how far his own commitment to friendship with Jesus can take him. Peter will learn to his shame that he is unable to be Jesus’ friend in His day of trouble, when He is brought low.
It is remarkable that Jesus’ foreknowledge of all of this does not prevent Him from calling Peter (and the other apostles) His friends. Jesus defines friendship in two ways: keeping His commandment to love as He has loved (Jn 13:34), and knowing all that He has heard from His Father. Both become reality with the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The apostles can only keep His commandments and be able to recall all that Jesus reveals by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus will offer Himself in sacrifice to obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that those who first fail the test of friendship can rise to true friendship with Him. This shows how profoundly Jesus is committed to establishing friendship with His disciples.
The great sign of friendship for Jesus is entrustment with a mission. Jesus’s friendship with the apostles is an extension of His friendship with the Father: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). Because the Father sees Himself in Jesus He can entrust those whom He loves to Him. Now Jesus entrusts those whom He loves to the apostles because He sees Himself in them. Now that they live by the love of the Holy Spirit as the Father and Son do, they are one even as the Father and Son are one (Jn 17:11, 21). Jesus knows that the apostles will love others with the very same love with which He loved them (Jn 13:34; 15:12), which is the very love by which He is loved by the Father. By the gift of the Holy Spirit the apostles participate in Christ’s being sent by the Father.
Mission flows from communion, that is, from friendship with Jesus. Jesus’ mission is to draw His disciples into His friendship with the Father, by the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are one with Him in the truth that He is the Messiah Who must suffer, and they are one with Him in the love for the Father and for all men that shows its perfection in laying down their lives as He did. In this friendship in mission the apostles can ask the Father anything in Jesus’ name and the Father will grant it. Like Jesus, they will ask only one thing of the Father (Jn 14:13; 15:16; 16:23), namely, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13), and the proof that they have passed the test of friendship is that they are willing, through, with, and in Jesus, their Friend, to lay down their lives to make the gift of the Spirit available to others.