You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. Many celebrities, and even Christian celebrities, have learned this lesson the hard way. In the blink of an eye, or the release of a news story, they went from fêted to ignored, from celebrated to invisible. They learned quickly that many of their so-called friends had actually not been friends at all, but people thriving on a kind of symbiotic relationship where each benefited the other. When the relationship become a liability, their friends were suddenly nowhere to be found.
This happened to Jesus. When he was performing miracles and laying verbal beatings on the Pharisees and healing men who had been born blind, his friends were only too happy to ally themselves with him. They were proud to know him, to be known in relation to him, and to be in his inner circle. But when he became a hated criminal, when he was dragged before the courts and accused of crimes, his friends quickly made themselves scarce. They disappeared into the night, leaving him to fend for himself.
For as long as you and I have lived, at least if you have lived in this Western, first-world culture, friendship with Jesus has been beneficial. At worst this friendship has been neutral so the benefits have balanced the drawbacks. And while I am no prognosticator of doom, it seems increasingly clear that a relationship with Jesus will soon be more and more of a liability before this watching, judging world.
Looking at the people around me who have professed faith in Christ, and looking at many of the Christians I know through social media, I see two kinds of concerning reaction.
Some are denying him and rejecting him. They have determined that the cost of associating with Jesus is too high, and they have walked away from him altogether. Any association with Jesus typecasts them as bigoted, as intolerant, as judgmental, as trapped in an appallingly outmoded system of morality. They have chosen to leave him behind.
Many more are redefining the terms of their friendship by redefining their friend. They are creating a new version of their friend Jesus, rewriting him in their own image, or in the image of the culture around them, making him into a figure who has been misunderstood and who is far more tolerant, far more accepting, far more palatable. This inoffensive Jesus loves without judgment, he gives without expectation, he proudly waves a rainbow flag.
But, of course, Jesus is unchanged and unchanging. He will not bow to the changing culture, he will not cede to the rising tide. Jesus will only ever be who he is and who he has always been. And each of us has a choice to make.
You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. We don’t really know who Jesus’ friends are until a relationship with him becomes a liability instead of a benefit. We know that Jesus is proud to be the friend of sinners, and in the days to come, we will discover which sinners are truly proud to be friends with him.
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