Posts Tagged ‘friends’


WavingAnd if you only greet your friends, how is this different from anyone else?  Even the people who do not care about doing right do that much.–Matthew 5:47

Anyone can bless another person.  We do it all the time.  Most of the time we are completely unaware of it.  It happens when we greet each other.  In fact, it seems that the greetings we give are the simplest forms of blessing.  Think about it.  There are the many phrases that we use, like “Have a good day!,” which is Bonjour in French or Buenas Dias in Spanish, or Guten Tag in German.  Some of our greetings even have blessings from God.  In German it is Grüß Gott (Greet God) or in parts of Ireland and Scotland it is Dia dhuit (God with you).  It is from a simple greeting of blessing that the English get the phrase, Goodbye, an eventual contraction of God be with ye.  Does Goodbye have the same connotation as the French adieu, Spanish adiós, Italian addio and Portuguese adeus (To God)?  There are some cultures that offer a greeting of peace, like Salaam, Shalom, or Aloha.  It is so common throughout our world to bless another person in the Name of God, even if we mean to do it or not.  Everyone greets everyone, right?

Jesus seems to explain that this is not always the case.  And if I search my heart long enough, I know it to be true as well.  There are plenty of times when I do not want to be friendly to the late night grocery store cashier or the tactless emergency room nurse or the during dinner phone solicitor.  I have no desire to give well wishes to these individuals.  They are not my ‘friends,’ to quote Jesus above.  They are not invited to my house.  I do not want to be their friend and I do not want them to be mine.  And they are not going to receive from me the simplest, cultural greeting as a blessing.  What’s funny is that I am not even talking about those individuals who may be my enemies, those people who I avoid like herpes.  Can they get a greeting from me?  Forget it.

This verse gets to the heart of Jesus’ message.  For dozens of verses now, he has been explaining the importance of other people.  (It is almost the very end of the chapter–One more verse!)  He wants his followers to worry about others, care about them, be honest with them, treat them not like objects, give them the very shirt off of your back, etc.  And now Christ explains that we need to open our mouths and at least do the very least: greet all people.  God calls us to say, “Hello,” to strangers.  God wants us to say, “Goodbye.”


Matthew 5:26

“I say to you in all honesty.  There is no way you will get out of there until you pay that last cent.”

A Jail is a jail.  It is not home.  It is dusty, cold.  The floors are hard.  The beds are hard.  The facial expressions are hard.  I suspect that prisons use hard water causing hard stains on starched-hard clothes.  It is not a place that a person wants to live.  Who wants to go to jail?  They make prisoners pay for their crimes.  We even use debt language when we discuss someone who is in jail.  “She is paying her debt to society.”  “He’s got to pay for what he’s done.”  “Those kids owe it to themselves and to their parents to get right.”  Doing something wrong to another person debits the relationship’s balance.  A credit needs to be paid.  Jail language is the same as debt language.  And debt language is the same as relationship language.  Antonio says to Portia, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice,

And stand indebted, over and above,
In love and service to you evermore.

Friends owe each other by the very nature of friendship.  If I sin against my friend, I owe it to my friend to make it right or she will put me in solitary confinement.  The bars on a cell door cannot compete with the bars that a friend can put up during a fight.  A friend can lock you out.   He or she can make you feel like you are eating hard bread and drinking hard water.

Jesus, in his comments on laws, completely turns the whole discussion upside down.  He attacks the status quo affair with rule keeping and law loving.  A person in Christ’s day goes to jail if they do not pay her or his friend back.  A man’s debt really sends a man to prison.  It can even send a whole family to jail until the debt is paid in full.  But Jesus is not concerned with the law here.  He worries about our heart.   He wants us to be just as concerned with keeping out of a friend’s debt prison as we are with staying out of a money debt prison.  When you wrong another person, you owe that person.  There is a bill to pay.  Every cent counts.

Matthew 5:25

“Make friends quickly with your opponent while you are on the way with her or him.  Just in case, your opponent may deliver you to the judge and the judge may deliver you to the guard and you will be thrown into prison.”

The previous verses set up the scenario.  Jesus wants his disciples to think of relationships in terms of owing something to other people.  You go to the altar to make amends with God.  Your offering is in your hands.  It is ready to lay down.  But on the way, you catch a glimpse of someone to whom you owe something.  Jesus wants his followers to take care of their debts with their friends before making things right with God.  Friendships are valuable.  Besides, what happens if you do not make things right?  What happens if you go to the altar and only make amends with God?  Your friend can take you to court.  It might happen.  If you go to court because you owe something to your friend, you also can go to jail.

This sounds like the opposite of positive thinking.  Jesus uses a scare tactic to get his disciples to understand the consequences of their actions but there is a lot of truth in him.  I have an obligation to my friends.  My friends have an obligation to me, according to Christ.  We find ourselves indebted to other people because of what they give us.  There is mutual dependence.  It is a great circle of each person leaning on another person.  Just as we rely on God, we too need other people and their gifts to survive.  We can misuse the gifts of other people, our friends.  There is always the chance that we break the bonds.  And if/when we do, we owe the person whom we offend.  We owe an apology.  Or we need to give them part of our selves.  It is a sacrifice of pride.

Do we really go to jail, Jesus?  I know people who are behind self-made bars.  Lots of people are like this.  They may not live in a literal prison but their actions isolate them.  They end up friendless because they offend enough of them.    They do not follow Christ’s advice to ‘make friends quickly’.  Instead, these prisoners prefer to win the arguments.  They miss out on friends because they want to out perform them.  They cannot sacrifice their pride.  They cannot give an offering to another person.  And therefore, they live in jail.

Matthew 5:24

“Leave your offering there at the altar, in front of others, first go and be reconciled to your friend, and then continue to bring your offering.”

In a verse about reconciliation, I need to confess something about my translation above. The word ‘friend’ is not in this verse or in the other verses. It probably is not the word that Jesus uses. It is definitely not the word that Matthew uses in his Greek. Most translations have Jesus calling us to reconcile the relationship with a ‘brother’ or a ‘neighbor’. Why do I do it then? Do I not care about the integrity of the scripture? No, I do. Perhaps this is why I like it. I believe that our Teacher wants us to see the importance of our relationship with those people with whom we are close. The other words do not give the same modern sentiment and they can confuse us on Jesus’ point.

I am glad that I use the word ‘friend’.  This is the place where Facebook gets it right.  Although some of my so-called ‘friends’ on that place are trivial or shallow, interaction on that site is like a friendship with all of its forms of permission, language, and exposure.  Having a friend on Facebook is not the same as having a friend outside the world-wide web.  This is obvious.  (There is no Farmville.)  Yet, a lot of work goes into a real friendship. There is an intimacy that is sacred, holy. When someone is a friend, she or he knows me. I am exposed and vulnerable. This person sees parts of me that I cannot name and I intentionally allow it to happen. I give permission to this other person to talk to me unlike a stranger.  I also allow my friends to see how I act with other friends.  My interactions are not personal or intimate among friends.

This explains why Jesus wants us to look at the bigger picture of our friendships. Our perspective changes up here on the mountain looking down upon our lives. And he speaks of our priorities. What is more important? Is it our relationship with our friends or our relationship with God? Another way to ask it: do I give an offering to the Lord or to my friend first? I wrong both of them in Christ’s teaching. I take an offering to God to seek forgiveness. I also offer myself to my friend. One needs to happen before the other.  One needs to wait.  Jesus explains that settling things with our friends needs to occur before we settle things with God.  We even need to do it in front of others.  All of our relationships intermingle.  They all go together.  It is more than writing on the wall of someone else’s page.  It is writing on the walls of hearts, just as the Father does to us.

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