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Jesus, Our Friend

Friday, 12 April 2024  | Alison Sampson

After the service, a visitor bailed me up. ‘That prayer’, she said. ‘You called Jesus our friend. Why would you do that?’

‘Um … because he tells us to’, I said.

‘What!’ she snapped, then she shook her head briskly and walked out, leaving me wondering about the forms of address she considered permissible. Lord, I suppose, and Master. Brother? Perhaps not, unless, of course, he was the domineering kind, older, bigger, smarter, stronger and better than us in every way. Sovereign would be okay. Also shepherd. Definitely king.

Notice, however, that Jesus himself did not tell us to call him king. That is an interpretation we placed upon him, and a title he largely avoided. But he did invite us to call him friend. So I like to think about my other friends and let those images shape how I relate to him.

When I was a kid, friendship meant my sister. We’d roll around in sleeping bags crashing into each other and the furniture, giggling endlessly. We’d dress up in wild clothes and hold terrible concerts with ukulele and kazoo. We’d tell silly stories while drinking chocolate milk and laugh until the Milo shot through our nostrils. ‘Stop!’ one of us would gasp, ‘stop making me laugh!’ as we howled in pleasure and pain.

As I grew, friendship became about conversation. At university we talked about science and religion in late night D&Ms. Later, friendship became long dinners and gardening together, jaws endlessly flapping. When I became a mother, friendship meant constantly interrupted staccato chats, and singing in a choir. Now that I’m pushing fifty, friendship means talking about books, faith, politics, kids, bodies, pain and where to buy shoes. There’s often food or singing, and laughter and tears are never far away.

The other week, a friend came over. We were talking of hard things when suddenly she said, ‘How was the wedding?’

I whipped out my phone and showed her a selfie. The wedding had a theme, maritime madness, and I had made a hat to look like a fish was eating my head. ‘You wore THAT?’ she shrieked, then we started to laugh. ‘Oh!’ she gasped, ‘I have a pinched nerve, this is killing me …’. She clutched her armpit as she laughed and laughed, howling in pleasure and pain. Whenever we looked at each other, we set off again, and ‘Aaah’, said my friend, as the room cleared of worry and fear thanks to foolishness and laughter and connection and good cheer and the fish that was eating my head.

Later, when things had calmed down, she rolled her shoulder experimentally. ‘It’s loosened up! I think it’s fixed. I so needed that laugh’, she said.

I wonder what these images suggest about Jesus as friend. We know he was the kid who talked at the temple, but must that mean he’s a sanctimonious prig? Or could he have been simply curious? Could he also play hide-and-seek and laugh when he finds you, like a widow who finds a lost coin? And just as she invites the neighbours to celebrate, would he make Milo for afternoon tea?

Could Jesus be a conversation partner? Would he stay up late over a crumb-littered table asking good questions, making provocations and listening so carefully that you know you are fully seen? For he loved banquets, picnics and home cooking, and the conversations that these bring.

Did he make people smile? Would he dress up like a king, perhaps, and ride into town on a too-small donkey, disrupting people’s desire for a saviour and offering subversive street theatre instead? Could connection through shared laughter be part of the healing he brings?

Jesus was attractive to marginal people, vulnerable people, even children. They wanted to be near him. They trusted him. They liked him. From my own experience of friendship, this tells me he was never domineering, authoritarian or false. Instead, he must have been gentle, grounded, present and fun to be around.

I imagine him on kitchen chairs and park benches and upturned milk crates: anywhere you can sit and chat. Because he was interested in people and cared about their worries – their work, their housing, their health, their kids – and he took the time to listen. In the face of abusive authority he could certainly be fierce, but when he hung around ordinary people, sick people, people who needed a break, his eyes must have crinkled with kindness. And it’s rarely mentioned but it seems obvious to me that he must have loved to sing.

If we start with Lord, Master, Sovereign, King, it is hard to imagine him sharing life’s journey with us. But when we look at his life of talking, eating and spending time with people, then friend seems not only an apposite description but the best title for Jesus, by far. Ω


Alison Sampson is a Baptist minister writing on Wurundjeri lands. You can read more of her work at For anyone under the age of 50, a D&M is a deep and meaningful conversation.


Image credit: Black Pants by Dario Valenzuela at Unsplash.

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