One of most popular and endearing television programs was sitcom series Friends.
It struck a rich cord in our society. Each episode reminded us that friends matter.
To be alone and friendless is the scourge of our a society that is too often individualistic and self-centred. Frequently in movies, there is a scene or two of tragic loneliness; a guy or girl in a bar drinking by themselves and hoping to be picked up.
Friendship is more richer and deeper that any flirtatious affection. Unlike romantic relationships or the bonds between siblings, “friendship is entirely voluntary, uncovered and unencumbered by any send of duty or debt”(Wesley Hill).
Friendship is uniquely precious, mysterious and uniquely rewarding. True friendship often has minimal obligations and maximal liberty. With friends you can be yourself without fear of judgement. Mark Slouka’s novel, Brewster is the story of two school kids who fall into an unlikely friendship. On reflecting on the friendship one of them comments “it was as close to having a brother as I’ll ever get”. Such can be the strength and warmth of the bond of friendship.
I love the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan, they were great mates who loved each other. They loved being with each and shared life’s deepest struggles and supported one another. How life-giving this is. I think also of the story in the gospels about Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’s cross. Jesus needed a friend, the Roman cross was too hard to bear. Simon stepped in and befriended Jesus.
Even the Son of God needed friends.
Bearing each other’s burdens is part of what friends do. In our Western culture we are in danger of downgrading or dismissing the value of non-sexualised friendship. Ben Myers, an Australian theologian has outlined a series of ways that friendship has be pushed to the margins of our society. He challenges Freud’s suspicion that all relationships , at base involve eroticism.
Close male friendship are not inevitably homosexual. While marriage needs to be highly valued and respected as a relationship of mutual love and deep intimacy, close friendships and singleness can be rich sources of joy, mutuality and strength.
Indeed as retirees, divorced people and the newly married will tell you, marriage does not meet all our relational needs.
We sometimes forget that Jesus never married and was great at making deep friendships. He invited his followers into a divine friendship with him. He called his disciples into a community of equals where friendship is a core value.
As the debate on marriage rages, let us not forget the in-estimate value of friendship.
Rev Steve Francis