Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Best Friends

There’s not a whole lot in the bible about best friends. Family relationships seem to take center stage, while friendships play a smaller role. Maybe that’s why the unfolding story of David and Jonathan that has been in our Old Testament readings from the Daily Office lately has caught my attention.

In today’s lesson (1 Samuel 20:1-23), David and Jonathan make a pact. Saul, Jonathan’s father, has decided to try to kill David, but Jonathan doesn’t want to see that happen. Although close with his father, he doesn’t see the reason for killing David, so he says to his friend, “Whatever you say, I will do it for you.” That was treason—a betrayal of his own father that deserved death—but his heart belonged to his best friend.

Often, when a son betrays a father, it is to take advantage of him—to put oneself in a position to gain from the loss, defeat, or death of the father. But Jonathan doesn’t seem as concerned with saving himself as he does with saving his friend. Perhaps it’s just because I want to read this story altruistically, but I find honor in Jonathan’s willingness to turn his back on his family in order to save the life of his best friend.

After offering to help David and forming a pact with him, Jonathan asks for one thing in return: “If I am still alive, show me the loyal love of the Lord, that I may not die…let not the name of Jonathan be cut off from the house of David.” He’s not making a deal for half of the kingdom. He’s not asking for a position of power alongside David’s rule. He just wants David to remember him that his life—if it hasn’t already been taken by his father—might be preserved. I think his true motive is shown in the way Jonathan asks David for his pledge: “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

The love of two friends—we don’t read a lot about it…in the bible or elsewhere. But we often experience that love. The love of parent for child and for siblings and for spouses—all of that love is what we expect. Our culture assumes that families will be united by love. When we share with a friend the kind of undying love that is willing to sacrifice all on behalf of the other, that sort of love is extraordinary. It stands out…even if we often take it for granted.

I’m the sort of person who says “I love you” almost every time I hang up the phone with a relative, but there aren’t a lot of friends (if any) with whom I share that same sentiment out loud. That’s not because I don’t love my friends as selflessly as I love my family. I do. But why don’t I celebrate it more often? When we receive the surprisingly giving love of a friend—someone united to us not by blood but only by friendship—it has the ability to stop us in our tracks and bring us to our knees.

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