I call you friends

Art by Elhanan ben-Avraham

I no longer call you servants…Instead, I have called you friends…’ – Yeshua (John 15:15)

These words spoken by the Messiah to his disciples were uttered at the celebration of Passover in Jerusalem. The central memorial of that festival is the remembering of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, where a nation of slaves became a nation of free men and women. The long-standing Passover tradition is the singing of avadim hainu (‘we were slaves’) ‘but now we are free’. It is in that context that Yeshua spoke those revolutionary words in Hebrew, the word for ‘servants’ being avadim,the same word for slaves.  Thus a closer translation would be, ‘No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’

The Hebrew word for friends is haverim, from the singular haver, the root word meaning to be closely connected. It is written of Abraham, the father of all Israel and of the faithful, as well as of Ishmael, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God’ (James 2:23). The town in which Abraham and Sarah his wife are buried (as well as his sons Isaac and Israel, and their wives) is called Hebron (Hebrew: Hevron), and in Arabic Al-Khalil, both meaning ‘the friend’, after Abraham, the great friend of God. Thus the allusion of Yeshua’s pronouncement at the Passover was to that relationship that Abraham had with God as a friend, which his work and mission was to restore that personal relationship between men and God as it was with Abraham. They would no longer be slaves to sin and thus enemies of God, or slaves even to God, but would now become close friends with God- and to each other. That is the central message of the Gospel.

What is a friend? A friend is one with whom we have a close and deep relationship of trust and love and loyalty. A friend is one you can count on, who gives you the benefit of the doubt, often overlooking shortcomings. It also may be said that it is a long and lasting relationship, which normally entails at times even misunderstandings and disagreements, as do most long and close relationships. A real friend is one who know just how bad you can be- and also how good. But patience and respect and love- and very often forgiveness- are applied in maintaining that friendship, including marriage. That is the essential recipe given to the disciples of the Messiah, to whom he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Though sometimes easier said than done, that is the intended universal objective of the Gospel.

At that same Passover, the Messiah said also, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13), which he would certainly do for not only his disciples the following day in crucifixion, but for all humankind that would trust in his kindness and grace, and call him Friend.

There is nothing quite so precious as old and true friends. They are like an old wool hunting shirt that has kept you warm in the blowing winds of winter and adversity, and are full of memories. They are also like your old faithful hunting dog that saw you miss the shot and spew obscenity and looked the other way and never brought it up again. Old friends are folks you have trusted and continue to trust because they have proven trustworthy, for without trust there cannot be friendship, or real love. Your real friends know your strengths and also your weaknesses, having weathered some good and bad times together, and who love you despite both, appreciating you for who and what you are, not for what you should be, or are not yet.

I have been blessed with a score of real old friends- several as long as sixty-five years so far, nearly twice the time my firstborn son has been alive. My business partner and I have known each other that long – since five years old- and have worked together successfully for nearly forty without a written agreement, or even a handshake – just trust. Other longtime friends share a very different political and even spiritual understanding from myself and we have wrestled quite heatedly but, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, continue tolerating and respecting and loving one another as friends.

Old friends are those you may not speak with for years at a time, but when you reconnect you pick up right where you left off without a hesitation in the conversation. They are folks who can be counted on to cover your back in a struggle, even if you may not be completely right. Those real friends, even when you aren’t thinking of them, are like stars in your skies, that if one should disappear your night would be darker for lack of their light. My wife is my old friend at forty years so far, being through thick and thin, sick and sin, sharing memories and still laughing and in love most of the time. My golden retriever is my loving friend at all times, day and night, never disappointing (and would expect to see in Heaven). Some people I have offered friendship, but they were either unwilling or unable, or unworthy.  And the worst of pains is a trusted friend who has betrayed trust, which is irreparable as a broken spinal cord.  I have been the true friend to my children since they were born, though it takes time for them to understand that.

My brother is my oldest of old living friends, who has known me since I was born seventy-four years ago, even before I knew him. And the Lord is the most amazing and faithful of old friends, also loving for who I am currently, not for what I should be, but never giving up on urging me forward toward that better goal. He said, “I call you friends,” and that is what counts in the end, and beyond. May the communion we take in this Passover eve be among friends indeed.

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Elhanan ben-Avraham, born in 1945, is a professional artist, poet, writer and father of two, grandfather of four, living in Israel since 1979. He has served in the IDF, taught the Bible internationally, published five illustrated books of poetry, painted two large Biblical murals in public buildings in Jerusalem, and most recently produced THE JERUSALEM ILLUSTRATED BIBLE, among many other works. He and his wife live in a quiet village in the Mountains of Judah.