But here’s the kicker: we are also sent to the same people as Jesus. Jesus befriended the marginalized, the sick, and the sinful. Jesus befriended the last, the lost, the least, and the lonely. Jesus befriended the child, the Muslim, the refugee, the homeless, the rich, the democrat, the republican, the gay, the lesbian, the atheist, the ethnically diverse, the obnoxious coworker, the irritating peer, the distant family member.
They, too, we’re called to befriend.
This is something we’ve always known. We’re called to reach the same people Jesus reached. But that always leaves us with a dire question:
How do we do this? How do we evangelize through friendship to people who are so drastically different from us? Who come from drastically different backgrounds than us? Who have habits and personality quirks that rub us the wrong way? Who are in close proximity to us yet aren’t even close to us? Who struggle with sin? Who believe completely different beliefs from us? The thought of being friends with these people is legitimately terrifying.
But here’s an important disclaimer: We can’t have the same depth of friendships with everyone. I think it’s easy to assume that to minister to others through friendship means we have to be super ridiculously close with them. But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, this was even the case with Jesus himself. Jesus had all sorts of friendships at varying depths with the people to whom he ministered. There’s the one disciple whom Jesus loved: John. They were practically best friends. There’s the three disciples Jesus really confided in: John, James, and Peter, who had the special privilege to go on the mountain and see him transfigured. None of the other disciples had that privilege. There’s the 12 disciples we all know and love; Christ spent the most time with them, teaching, worshiping, and ministering together, but also just doing life. But then there’s the 72 disciples that Jesus sends out on ministry. Clearly he must have known all 72 of them, but he didn’t know them as well as the 12. Finally, there were the “sinners” Jesus hung out with in their homes, whose friendships looked drastically different from the disciples. Let alone the massive surface level relationships Jesus had with the crowds that followed him everywhere, like when he fed the 5,000. That crowd would’ve surpassed the 5,000 friends limit on Facebook alone.
Now, here’s another important disclaimer: One of the core dogmas to Christology is that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% human. Jesus as God, in his divine nature, loves every single person with the same kind and amount of divine love that the Father has for him, and he makes the same level and infinite depth of intimacy available to everyone who walks this earth. But Jesus as a man, in his human nature, practiced his love with other people in different ways depending on the kinds and depths of friendships he had. The friendships he had with John, James, and Peter looked different than his friendships with the other nine disciples, and his friendships with all 12 disciples looked different from the people he’d interact with in sinners’ homes. The ministry he extended looked different based on the kind of friendships he had. I’m not saying any of these friendships were better; they were all just different.
The same is true for us. We all should have the incredibly deep and intimate kind of spiritual friendships that St. Aelred describes to some degree, but that’s usually only found with a select number of fellow believers.
But what does friendship ministry look like with the coworkers who share a cubicle with you? Or with the barista who serves you coffee regularly? Or with your really close friend from college who isn’t a believer? Or with the people sitting in your section at a baseball game? Or the peer deeply struggling with sin that God’s asking you to reach out to? Or with the beggar sitting on the street corner? Or with your life group who are all avid lovers of Jesus? Or with your spouse? Your brother? Your boss?
We all have a remarkable range of relationships from surface level and non spiritual to incredibly intimate and super spiritual. How do we befriend the world through such dramatically different relationships?
One way to look at it is through this thing I once learned called “the three-foot-principal.” More on this next time.