Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Theology of Friendship

The following is an adapted extract from an article in Word and Worship 2011 pages 163 - 164 written by Pieter Van Niekerk and addresses the need for a well-thought theology of friendship:
Interpreting the Word

The command to love one another goes hand in hand with friendship between Jesus and his followers. It is intimate. O’Day in her lecture, I Have Called You Friends, quotes John 15:12-15 and adds to it. She says that friendship has no prominence in theology. The Gospel according to John shows the opposite. “For Jesus, friendship is the ultimate relationship with God and with one another.” The Greek words for ‘love’ (phileo) and for ‘friend’ (philus) share the sonic verb. In the New Testament a ‘friend’ is immediately understood as ‘one who loves.’ This fundamental connection between love and friendship is an essential starting point for reclaiming friendship as a resource for faith and ethics for contemporary Christians.” Jesus is the model and source of friendship. "The pattern of Jesus’ own life and death moves the teaching of John 15:13 from philosophical ideal to an embodied promise and gift".

In a column in a daily newspaper, Christina Landman writes about the need for a theology of friendship when she writes about sexual molestation and abuse: “There are people whom we should protect ourselves. But at the same time we should recklessly reach out to most people. People should befriend one another. Actually we should get rid of words such as ‘single person’ and ‘single parent.’ Nobody is really single. We could only call a person single when we regard marriage as the only relationship among people that is of any importance. On the contrary, female theologians maintain that each person forms a part of many relationships. People should work on various (platonic) relationships in order to support others and make them feel dignified. A woman should not only have a relationship at home, because if such a relationship should turn violent, she would have no outside support. For this reason female theologians pay special attention to a theology of friendship these days. A theology of friendship makes matters even. It gives individuals the opportunity of starting friendships at all levels, so that they need never regard themselves as single.”

Frederick Marais expresses his thoughts on friendship, intimacy and vulnerability as regards a missional theology. He writes: “Johan Heroldt and Marius Ungerer, two experienced ABSA-consultants, discovered how vulnerability in the work place creates safe spaces. The question Johan and Marius had asked was how it could be possible for friendship and intimacy to evolve in a working environment like ABSA, after research had found that most employees claim that the most intimate relationships exist in the work-place. Johan and Marius found that the most important thing concerning the development of intimacy and friendships is the willingness to be vulnerable. It was a matter of predisposition rather than consultants or pastors that provided the key to this matter of friendship and intimacy.

Mark Peske has the following to say: “In previous years, I invited people to church when I met them, thinking in that way they would hear the gospel. I began to see that l was giving the church an unfair advantage. I was asking them to come to my turf where l was the leader, where I stood and spoke while they sat and listened. It was a lack of courage that led me to rely on them to a place where l was the boss and they were the servants. What I had to learn to do was speak the gospel on their terms — in their homes, in their boats as a friend and as an equal.” (Mark Peske, missionary to the Obija, as quoted in The local church in mission; Lausanne Occasional Paper No 39).

The words of Jesus in John 15:12-15 echo in the familiar scene of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” laying down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). What distinguished Jesus’ words from this ideal was not their content but the fact that Jesus did not merely talk about laying down his life for his friends. Jesus enacted the ancient ideal friendship — he laid down his life for his friends. Jesus’ whole life is an incarnation of the ideal of friendship. What Jesus teaches he is already living. The pattern of Jesus’ own life and death moves the teaching of John 15: I 3 from philosophical ideal to an embodied promise and gift. A quick review of some key passages from John will illustrate how Jesus’ entire life and death is an act of friendship. The ‘Good Shepherd’ discourse of John is a useful place to begin. John 10 begins with a parable about a sheepfold: he focuses first on the gate and then on the shepherd (10:3-5). This parable gives a very realistic picture of sheep herding and of the role of the shepherd. Jesus interprets this parable by identifying himself with both the gate (10: 7-10) and the shepherd (10:11-18). The good shepherd ‘lays down his life for the sheep” and so puts care of the sheep above all else.

This is in striking contrast to the hireling who would put the sheep in jeopardy rather than risk his own life (10:12-13). The contrast between the shepherd and the hireling is like that between the true and the false friend—the false friend will not be around in a time of crisis, but the true friend will be. As one ancient storyteller writes, ‘Just so in calm weather a man cannot tell whether sailing master is good; he will need a storm to determine that.’ But Jesus is not simply telling a story about shepherds and hirelings, about true and false friends. Jesus is talking about himself, about the love that animates everything he does. To make this clear, Jesus speaks directly, in first-person language: “lay down my life for the sheep” (John l0:15). He talks directly about his own life and death: ‘For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’ (l0:l7-18a)” (O’Day).

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