VERBUM DOMINI

Our First Friend

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Friendship is the greatest thing on earth. That’s not just my opinion, but also that of Saint Thomas Aquinas: “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” Now Aquinas was not given to exaggerations. He chose his words carefully and precisely (he considered it a fault, if not a sin, to say anything other than what you believe). This means that the greatest theologian of the Church, surveying all the goods of the world, weighing the respective value of all created realities, finally settled on true friendship as the highest and most precious. This explains why God, taking on our earthly existence, chose to express his Love in terms of friendship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). There was simply no better way to say it.

When Jesus rose, the first thing he did (despite all of the rejection and betrayal of his passion) was make an offer of friendship. His first words are “peace be with you.” True friendship is always offered in freedom and peace. It is never imposed nor given for the sake of receiving in return. It is always a gift. Next, Jesus proves that his offer is genuine: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see.” His friendship is not mere appearance, a phantasm disappearing as quickly as it came. Rather he offers something enduring, something eternal. Finally, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Jesus is the Word of God. In opening the Scriptures to them, he is revealing the very depths of himself (his intentions, his loves, his hates). True friendship is comfortable at these depths; indeed, it is eager to go there.

In the Book of Sirach we read, “a faithful friend is a life-saving remedy” (6:16). Anyone who calls Jesus ‘friend’ knows this to be true. His friendship has rescued us from darkness, snatched us from the grip of death, and filled us with the joy of being precious in his eyes. His friendship is life-saving. Jesus, our first and best friend, is the model for all other friendships. If a friend is true, we should feel free, not constrained. Like Christ’s, a true friendship endures. It doesn’t change with the seasons. A true friend is also eager, interested and open. As Thoreau once noted, “true friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.” Finally, as with Jesus, a true friend enhances life. They bring about a flourishing within us. Jesus came that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Such is the case with every true friend.