This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, “Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him.” That’s how Abraham became God’s friend.
Jesus was teaching one day when a man in the crowd asked him a question.
‘Can you tell me, Jesus, what I have to do to live forever?’
Jesus smiled. ‘Love God,’ he answered, ‘and love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.’
‘But who is my neighbour?’ asked the man, hoping to trick Jesus. ‘Is he just the fellow who lives next door?’
“Let me tell you a story,’ Jesus said, “and I think you will understand.’
‘Once upon a time, there was a man, a man like any of us, who was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now as you all know, that is a very dangerous road. It’s twisty and it’s steep, and there’s no end of places for robbers and thieves to hide.
‘Well the robbers were waiting that day. And they grabbed the man and beat him. Then they took all of his money and left him to die.’
‘Oh dear,’ sighed the crowd. They felt sorry for the money. ‘In a little while, a priest came walking down that road, he was walking home from worshipping God at the temple. He saw the dying man, and what do you think he did?’
‘He helped him!’ shouted someone in the crowd.
‘He saved him!’ shouted another.
‘No! said Jesus, firmly. ‘He did not. He took one look at that poor, beaten man, crossed to the other side of the road, and walked away.’
‘Soon another man passed by. He served God at the temple too. So what do you think this man did when he saw the wounded traveller?’
‘He ran for help’ shouted someone.
‘He raised the alarm!’ shouted another.
‘No! said Jesus, firmly. ‘He did not. Just like the priest, he crossed to the other side of the road and left that poor man to die.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Jesus. ‘For there was one more man who passed by that day and he was a Samaritan.’
‘A Samaritan?’ shouted the crowd ‘We don’t like Samaritans and they are different from us.’
‘I have heard that,’ said Jesus ‘But when this Samaritan saw the man, he did not walk away. He bandaged his wounds, loaded him on to his donkey and then took him to a nearby inn. He also paid for that man to stay in the inn until he was well.’
Jesus then looked at the man who had asked the original question. ‘So tell me,’ he said ‘Which of these men was a good friend and neighbour to the poor man who had been robbed?’
‘The third one, the Samaritan,’ the man answered.
‘That’s right,’ Jesus smiled. ‘Because my neighbour is anyone who needs my help. Now you go and help your neighbour, too.
Friendship is an undisputed value in our society, with children often spending more time with their friends than with family. It is a key concept in the Christian framework, with Jesus being criticised for being ‘the friend of sinners’ and eating with those whom society rejected. Sharing a meal with someone is an explicit sign of friendship and the word ‘companion’ literally means ‘one with whom you share bread.’
Jesus tells stories of the heavenly banquet to which all are invited. The barriers between people are broken down in a loving community around God and Jesus had stern words to say to those who refused to recognise that all are included in this community of friendship.
The Bible has many sayings about friendship:
‘A friend loves at all times.’ (Proverbs 17:17)
Friends are not afraid to tell each other the truth and a friend’s loving criticism is worth more than the empty compliments of someone who does not really care for you.
‘Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.’ (Proverbs 27:6)
The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it very simply: ‘if one falls down, a friend can lift him up’. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
The friendship of David and Jonathan is very strongly emphasised in the Bible, Abraham is described as the friend of God (James 2:23) and Jesus explicitly calls his disciples not servants but friends (John 15:14 - 15).
Trust, feeling comfortable in each other’s company, being able to share joys and
sorrows are all features of friendship and these are things of immense value. True friendship enables each person to grow and ensures that the unique individuality of each person is recognised. All this echoes the value placed by God on the preciousness of each person.
Hymns like ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ point to a relationship that is at the heart of Christian believing. Knowing that God is our friend is to recover something of the acceptance and close companionship that people of all ages need and crave.