I HAVE a friend named John. He tells the story, as I recall it, of being tempted to cross to the other side of the street when approaching a group of men who seemed threatening. He resisted the temptation, and when he came closer one said, ``Hello, John. I'd like you to meet my friends.'' The man was someone John had worked with in the community, and his friends were not menacing when seen through the eyes of a friend. Long after John left the area, I moved into the neighborhood. And every time I'm tempted to be unnecessarily suspicious of these neighbors, I think to myself, ``These are John's friends.'' I've had interesting encounters, and even this morning I accepted the casual invitation of one of ``John's friends'' to hit some tennis balls, since we were the only ones out that early. He was so much better than I that we didn't play long, but I was grateful not to be afraid, not to be suspicious of this stranger.
Being linked by a friend to a neighborhood points to a worldwide bond. A line of an old Christian hymn comes to mind: ``What a Friend we have in Jesus.'' I don't recall any more of the hymn, but this one idea is enough to point to what really relates us to one another on a safe and sane basis. It points to spiritual truths and values, such as Jesus taught and lived, as the basis for right relationships.
Where others might have seen enemies, Jesus saw friends. The Bible records that when Judas betrayed him, ``Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come?''1 How could Jesus have said ``friend'' when he knew Judas was at that very moment and by the very act of kissing him betraying him to his enemies?
Surely Jesus looked beyond the immediate human propensity to turn traitor. Where could Christ Jesus call such a one ``friend'' but in spiritual reckoning? Answering the question ``What is man?'' in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures Mary Baker Eddy2 writes, ``Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals.''3
Where others might see an enemy, Jesus saw the individuality of God's creating. It was this correct, this spiritual or Christly apprehension, that enabled Jesus not only to see a friend behind the mask of traitor but to be the friend of all mankind.
``What a Friend we have in Jesus'' indeed! It is through his teachings that we see something of our own spirituality as well as that of others. And it is this understanding of the spiritual perfection of each individual that relates us to one another as genuine friends.
The term friend generally refers to a person one knows well. But in our mobile society we often don't know well those we call friends. Yet we can behold ``the perfect man'' of God's creating as the genuine, spiritual identity of those we meet. Then we can look at our neighbors without prejudice or unwarranted suspicion. We can call another ``friend'' on the higher basis of spiritual fact. This shouldn't make us foolish, placing trust where it cannot reside. In fact, such spiritual clear-sightedness would alert us to those we should avoid.
In a poem Mrs. Eddy speaks of Christ as ``friend of the friendless.''4 When friendship is looked at spiritually and in the light of Biblical promises, no one need ever be without the comfort of friendship. Jesus' life teaches us how to look beyond betrayal, even beyond criminality, to find the perfect individuality we can call friend.
I love living in a neighborhood of John's friends. It reminds me to live in a world of Christ Jesus' friends.
1Matthew 26:50. 2The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 3Science and Health, pp. 476-477. 4Poems, p. 75.