"Jesus himself embodies friendship, particularly in the approaching passion or 'hour' that overshadows the entire farewell discourse. This self-engagement incarnates the life-giving love of God affirmed in John 3:16, and it forms the basis for the claim in 1 John 3:16: 'By this we know love, that he appointed his life for us; and we ought to appoint our lives for one another' (author's translation). More than simply a moral paradigm, Jesus is the lover/ friend whose love effects life in the beloved by granting them an intimacy with God that itself can be called friendship with God."
This is a treat for me to blog on this tonight. I've been meaning to get back to this one!
Ringe notes that Jesus' embodied friendship included what she calls "a ministry of accompaniment." "Jesus shares their lot and daily lives, relating to family, strangers, the curious, and the hostile as well as to his own community of associates." She points out that in his healings in John 5 and 9, Jesus hung around for extended conversation with the individuals who were healed. Jesus faced hostility when he healed in these instances, yet he hung around. Ringe notes these stories of Jesus "mirror the travails of 'friends' in the stories of philosophers used to tell--stories that define friendship in ways that concepts and propositions cannot."
She observes "a verb with staying power." She comments on a verb and its family, translated in a variety of words, such as 'dwell,' 'remain,' and 'abide.' It is used for example in John 4:40 when the Samaritans asked Jesus to "stay" with them--so he did for two days. It takes on theological significance when it is used to describe the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Ringe elaborates on "friendship in times of crisis." She believes a "special case of the link of friendship and care in times of illness can be seen in the story of raising Lazarus." It is in this story "Jesus' 'love' for Lazarus and his sisters is the basis for much of their conversation, for the high emotional engagement attributed to Jesus, and for the interplay of expectations and surprises on which the plot turns."
She notes "Friends take responsibility for each other's families and become, in effect, each other's new 'families' of responsibility and commitment. This is particularly so in times of crisis when the usual patterns and mechanisms of support break down. The account of the wedding at Cana at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and his touching words from the cross frame the Gospel with just such examples.' On the wedding, she notes "His action on their behalf thus amounts to his taking responsibility for the honor of the host of the family."
On the cross, she identifies Jesus' dying word "commends his mother and the beloved disciple to each other's care; they become mother and 'child' to each other. She notes this is a "classical expression of friendship....Both are thus saved from potential vulnerability when Jesus will no longer be with them. They are not left 'orphaned.'
Ringe then connects friendship with "The Good Shepherd." She notes, "Another image of friendship that draws on the consistent presence, care, and nurture demonstrated to friends in the rhythms of daily life, but that moves over to the realm of friendship in times of crisis, is the figure shepherd in 10:1-18. She notes the "one-sidedness of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep." Ringe says "Despite that obvious lack of mutuality that usually marks a relationship of friendship, the description of the shepherd echoes several aspects of that relationship. In the nature of things, shepherds and sheep spend long hours together. That leads to a recognition that goes both ways: the sheep respond to the shepherd's voice, and the shepherd knows the sheep's names." Ringe says "Like friends (15:13), shepherds 'appoint'--or in this case, literally, 'lay down'--their lives for those entrusted to them."
She states "The shepherd's patient spending of time with the sheep--sharing the circumstances of their daily life, nurturing and caring for them, coming to know them by name, and if necessary, risking his very life on their behalf--is the life of a friend among friends. That picture summarizes in vivid colors not only the sayings of friendship in 15:12-17, but also the three-year saga of the daily rhythms of friendship and the stunning examples of solidarity in moments of crisis that are portrayed in the Gospel narrative. Throughout that narrative Jesus 'appoints' his life on behalf of those he calls his 'friends.' In doing that he also fulfills the commission for which he has been sent, namely to embody God's love for 'the world' (John 3:16). He is the friend who befriends others, and in the process he teaches them how to be friends to one another in the community of his followers....His friendship unites his followers with himself, and with God who sent him, in an indestructible bond that is life itself." His wisdom she concludes, is a wisdom "that dares the love, intimacy, and friendship that can only emerge when people accompany one another through the rhythms of daily life and hang in together, come what may...Those who are Jesus' 'friends' and who love one another are accompanied in utter constancy by God in Jesus Christ."
This kind of friendship presence, this kind of pastoral friendship can't be anything but spiritual formation. This where it seems to me, that any kind of therapeutic help to some extent, can only take one so far since distance, separation, and independence are hailed as core values in therapeutic relationships. Spiritual directors can and do have a powerful impact in spiritual formation. Yet, Jesus was the real deal when it came to spiritual formation, pastoral friendship, spiritual direction, and healing. This was not a sentimental kind of friendship. I have read several books in recent months all along the lines of the "power of women friendships." But here in John's Gospel, we see the power of pastoral friendship. Verna Dozier once said, God did not become incarnate as a book, but as a person." Here, Ringe expounds for us the depth of friendship presence in pastoral ministry, relationships and witness.
How can we miss that a significant part of the spiritual formation Jesus did was a "ministry of accompaniment?" I sometimes think we want the healing, we want the presence, we want the transformation, without the embodied presence of accompaniment. The very essence of spiritual formation in the Christian worldview begins with the Word who dwelt among people. Ringe believes "At the heart of the picture of the church in the Fourth Gospel is a model of accompaniment that is seen paradigmatically in Jesus' life as it embodies dimensions of Wisdom and Friendship."
What would happen if we began to believe the presence of friendship was one of the vital channels in spiritual direction, spiritual formation, and healing?