If you were around in 1855…

If you were around in 1855 you might have heard the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” People still sing it today. Carol King in 1971 wrote and sang “You’ve Got a Friend.” James Taylor also put that out in the same year and that was his only #1 Best Selling song. In 1995 Randy Newman did “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” for the movie Toy Story. Friends are essential. Friends are survival. But do you have any friends like Jesus’ friends?

Jesus’ critics, and there were many, commonly accused and belittled him because he welcomed sinners, outcasts, unpopular company. He socialized, ate with and enjoyed them. In his culture, sharing a meal was significant. It was an act of trust, respect and friendship. They maligned him and called him a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors because he gave grace and dignity to people who weren’t much like him and who “religious” society devalued and looked down upon.

He caused a scandal by making a tax collector a close friend and follower. He showed mercy to a woman caught in the act of adultery. A former prostitute often accompanied him (along with others) in his ministry and even ministered to him. Counter culturally, Jesus treated women socially with a respect which was totally not heard of or practiced in his day. Hard for us to relate to but as a Rabbi, he even broke tradition and touched a woman. He let people touch him. Imagine that! Do you have any friends like that? Would you have any friends like that? Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure not all of Jesus’ friends raised an eyebrow. Most were probably pretty much just regular folks. But they weren’t a “cookie cutter” crowd that always walked and talked and thought along the same lines he did.

His sincere acceptance and enfolding of others was remarkable. People very unlike Jesus liked him, and he sincerely liked folks who weren’t much like him. That’s still true today with Jesus, but it often seems to be too much of a challenge for us, his followers. We can find ourselves even within the Christian “bubble” seeking out and huddling closest to those who are most like us. Cloning advocates unite! (Just kidding) Yes, “birds of a feather flock together” but we ain’t birds.

Everyone wants to feel worthwhile, to know they count for something, to be accepted, even loved. Perhaps if we resist comparing ourselves to others, stop thinking “I’m not like him or her,” we could find some common ground . . . even make exciting new friends. After all, God tells us that our “goodness” or “righteousness” are borrowed virtues anyway, gifts from him. We have no foundation for self-righteousness, no room to boast.

Jesus sees through our transgressions, omissions, mistakes, addictions, shortcomings, errors . . . all of which amount to sin in his eyes (except the math and spelling mistakes I guess), and offers a hand to not just lift us up but to hold on to. He isn’t embarrassed to call different, frail, fractured and imperfect people “friend.” Hey, aren’t we called as loved children to “be imitators of God?” (Eph. 5:1) If God is “lifing” out his nature within us, where does that leave you and me, Christian? Could we run the risk, take a chance or two and look for opportunities . . . no, more than that, take the initiative to mix it up with some people who could use a new good friend? As you look around your circles of relationships, who might that be? Let’s both Think about it.

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