Just a word… Sixth Sunday of Easter…
Just a word… Sixth Sunday of Easter… May 9, 2021
There was a funeral in this church on Friday morning, for which the family chose a reading from the Book of Sirach, specifically: “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as the one who fears God finds.” I was reminded of that reading when reviewing the Gospel for this Sunday, in which Jesus called his disciples by that most complicated and beautiful of human words: he called them “friends.”
Long before and centuries after Sirach, history has been filled with those who have attempted to define what a “friend” is. From Aristotle, “a friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies,” to Emerson, “a friend is a person with whom I may be sincere, before whom I may think aloud.” Sometimes the definition is not in words but in im- ages. Take the experience of the 15th century German artist, Albrecht Dürer. When he left home to study art, he became friends with another young man of similar interests.
The two became roommates, but because they were poor, they were unable to make a living and study art at the same time. His friend suggested that Dürer should study while the friend worked to support them both. Reluctantly, Dürer agreed. When his paintings finally began to sell, his friend was able to return to the study of art. Sadly, the years of hard work had stiffened and gnarled the friend’s fingers and he was never able to paint with any skill. But some say it was the worn and aged hands of his friend that inspired one of Dürer’s best known works: The Praying Hands.
If you look at Dürer’s Praying Hands you won’t see flawless, smooth, beautiful “Michelangelo” hands. These hands are scarred and weathered; they are hands that know about service; hands that know that loving another means to be responsible for that other. If indeed, Dürer’s friend inspired the great painting, I believe their relation- ship reveals the quality of friendship to which Jesus calls his disciples (and that includes us). Like the friend sacrificed himself so that Dürer could develop and thrive, the Lord showed his love by laying down his life…and there is no greater love.
The relationship the Lord had with his friends then didn’t (and doesn’t now) happen overnight. There was a progression, one that was not without its difficulties. At times, he shocked, frightened, confused, and perhaps even embarrassed them. But for those who remained faithful, he became life itself.
If the cost of being Jesus’ friend seems a little high and intimidating, remember his command to “love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus is, as Sirach wrote, our sturdy shelter, our life-saving remedy. And as the 19th century Irish poet Joseph Medlicott Scriven wrote, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”