How can you tell who your real friends are? What criteria do you use to discern between casual and serious friends? Is a real friend someone you’d hit up if you needed to borrow $1,000 on the double? Or someone you’d talk with before making a major life decision? Or someone you’d call at 2:00am during a crisis?
Joseph Heller’s novel, “Good as Gold,” contemplates a different type of criteria for friendship in the question, “Who would hide me?” The question is asked from the viewpoint of a Jewish person living with the memory of Germany during Hitler’s regime. As that person weighs his relationships with his Gentile friends, the ultimate criteria of friendship becomes, “Would he risk his skin to hide me if the Nazis came knocking again?” The darker side of this friendship question is “Who would betray me? Who would sell me out?”
Jesus once entertained a similar question: “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer asking the question was really wanting to know, “What are the limits of neighborliness? At what point am I absolved from my responsibility toward others?” The answer Jesus provided, in the form of the parable of the Good Samaritan, was not one the lawyer was hoping to hear. He concluded, based on Jesus’ story, that a neighbor is “one who shows mercy.” Jesus then replied, “Go and do likewise.”
Who is my neighbor? Who is my friend? Jesus and Joseph Heller both emphasize safety and protection as vital parts of neighborliness and friendship. The Samaritan who responds to the needs of the roadside robbery victim and the Gentile who welcomes in his vulnerable Jewish friend are both taking risks to provide safety and shelter.
One of the things Carrie and I tried to teach our girls as they made choices about friends was just this: pick friends who won’t betray you with on-again, off-again friendship. A true friend is someone who provides the shelter of friendship, even when it’s inconvenient or costly.
Jesus modeled this type of deep friendship. He told his followers that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Then he lay down his life for them and for all humankind. The apostle Paul tells the Colossian believers that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God,” describing the effects of their baptism in sheltering them in Christ.
Two questions in conclusion. First, who would hide you? Who is hiding you in the shelter of their friendship? Second, who are you hiding? Whom are you welcoming within the mercy of your protective loyalty?