catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 22 :: 2004.12.31 — 2005.01.13


Late night thoughts on friends as family

Given much of the Christian community's obsession with and anxiety over the state of the family, it is striking how little is to be found in scripture concerning what moderns might call a healthy family. Should we look to David's family, rife with jealously, adultery, rape and murder? Should we look to Jacob's, beset with envy, betrayal, violence and manipulation? Or shall we take the Holy Family as a model? A family, as one wag put it, composed of a middle aged and likely befuddled father, a teenaged mother who thinks she's a virgin, and a son who thinks he's God! Paul, modestly of course, thought his singleness and celibacy were the best pattern. In truth, one can look long and hard through the pages of scripture and not find much in the way of happy families. Oh, there's a good deal of sometimes hair-raising advice in Proverbs on how to raise children. And don't forget the enduring assumption that having sons is much to be preferred over having daughters. Is it not provocative that the commandment is to "honor" parents rather than "love" them? And then along comes this Jesus who said members of his audience were his family, not the members of the social unit among whom he grew in Nazareth.

Perhaps the Bible is reminding us of what we all know—families are often not easy. Consider how much grist for the therapeutic mill is generated by issues from families of origin. Sins are visited unto the third and fourth generations not because God is sadistic, but because of how terribly difficult it is to undo destructive family patterns, and not many are willing to do the work.

Instead of family, the Bible more often speaks of friendships. Abraham: the friend of God. The friendship of David and Jonathan: surpassing the love of woman and man. And those evocative words at the end of Jesus' ministry, "No longer do I call you servants, but friends." In that utterance, Jesus elevated not only his disciples into mutuality; he elevated friendship as an eminent category of human relationship. Astonishingly, and tellingly, even Judas in the moment of betrayal is called "friend."

Often we are separated from parents, siblings and children by significant geographical distance. The time comes when parents die and children leave the nest. Are the left bereft? No. Friends remain and sustain, blessing us with the gift Jesus gave and gives his friends—knowing us well and liking us anyway, revealing aspects of ourselves we may not otherwise have seen, breaking bread with us, and yes, helping us make our way through the ups and downs of such inevitabilities as midlife perplexity, the aging of parents and departure of children. Friends, it is not too much to say, are the family we create in addition to the family we are given. They reveal much to us of the grace of the One who has befriended us more deeply than we know.

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