One of the most difficult aspects of moving to a distant land is leaving behind those deep enriching friendships which you had carefully built and nurtured over the years. Friendships in which often nothing needed to be said – mutual presence and understanding going much further than words ever could.
Difficult that is in terms of Loss. It happened and it had to be born, but in a sense more difficult is to arrive and to establish new friendships. Unlike the Loss of friendships entailed in emigrating, the difficulty in this regard is in the necessary work of friendship building with people whom you do not know. It is a reminder of the deeper aspects of friendship, that it requires commitment and work. Friendships don’t ‘just happen’, rather they are the product of mutual intentionality, committing for example to meeting weekly for a meal or a coffee. To choose to trust a stranger with our lives.
Perhaps more than ever in a world where we are so mobile and faced every moment of the day with a bewildering array of attractive options for spending our time, it is hard to build deep and sustaining friendships. So it was, having just returned from a weekly cup of coffee with one of my new friends that I sat down with the gospel reading in order to prepare for our midweek Eucharist, and was struck by this very thing.
It was the parable of the wedding banquet from Matthew’s gospel (Ch.22 vs 1-14). Recently there has been a trend to try and remove this and other stark gospels from the lips of Jesus – to read them as sociological critiques which we then project back onto Jesus, but it strikes me that when we do this we are as always only trying to see our own reflection in Him. To make a ‘Jesus’ in our own image.
The parable of the wedding banquet is stark. Building on the rejection of the prophets by the children of Israel, those who are otherwise occupied refuse to attend the marriage of the King’s son, and indeed kill those bearing the invitation. The story then moves on to the King’s determination that the wedding feast will go ahead and his servants are sent out once more, this time onto the highways and by-ways to bring in the guests.
Finally when all is set the feast begins, yet the King notices one who is not properly attired, not wearing wedding garments, one who hasn’t made any effort to reciprocate the invitation, one who is thrown into outer darkness.
God in Christ has called us to such a banquet. In Love he has laid down his life for us, he has done Everything. As St Paul has it, he has reconciled the world to himself – he has called us his friends. Every moment of the day he waits for us, waits for our commitment to that friendship, our ‘yes’ to His Yes!
We may well understand the man without wedding robes to be one who has as it were wandered through life, aware at some level of God’s invitation to Know Him, to Love Him, to Be with Him. And yet has not reciprocated, perhaps trusting in some erroneous sense that this friendship required nothing of him (a stumbling block perhaps laid by some kindly preacher?) , that he would ‘go to heaven when he dies’ (a heaven which in popular imagination God, whom we do not know has absented Himself from).
I remember all too well as a youth, having heard so many times that God loved me, abandoning any effort at worship. Why bother? After all, God loved me and worship, prayer and the fellowship of the church were inconvenient. Yet in his mercy God seized hold of me, confronted me with the breathtaking scope of his invitation to me in and through Christ, and I knew I had been careless with that which was of Infinite worth. ( A carelessness of which I am not entirely free, even now some 30 years later)
In another of Jesus’ parables we hear the spine chilling words on His lips ‘Away from me, I never Knew you’. He had kept his appointments, Always been sat waiting for us, but building friendship with him had been too inconvenient for us.
Unlike a key difficulty in making friends with those amongst whom we come to live – that there are often very well established friendship groups into which it is hard if not impossible to break – God in Christ is Always in the business of making friends, it expresses part of the essence of the Triune God. Relating is Who God is. God is Love.
What do we do to build friendships with others?
What will we do to reciprocate God’s invitation, and thus enjoy the feast of friendship with Him?
He is waiting. When we meet, will it be as strangers or friends?