The 8th Century Coptic Icon of Friendship shows Jesus befriending Bishop Menas. The icon is sometimes called Christ and the Believer.
2 Corinthians 5:16-29 16 No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19 Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! (GNT)
[Good News Bible: The Bible in Today’s English Version. New York: American Bible Society, 1976.]
Formerly, the Messiah (Christ) was assessed objectively. Whether understood as archetype or as a unique person, it was always to be outside us, other than us. And yet we were to be dependent upon that reality for our salvation. Salvation would be granted by belief in the external reality of the Messiah. That was then; this is now.
Yeshua reconciled God and the inner psychic processes. Yeshua made friends with God — that is to say, there is an inner presence of a divine friendliness that invites us toward wholeness. To become friends with Yeshua is to befriend that inner God-process. To do so also makes us ambassadors of this friendship. The inner process of individuation and growth toward wholeness is scary and easily puts us off. The good news is that Yeshua invites us into a Way that makes the entire process not easy, but user-friendly.
I am told that, as a child, I talked regularly with “my friend,” Jesus. As I grew up that intimacy with the divine, mysterious, spiritual dimension life was replaced by a distant, transcendent God. Seminary completed the process by teaching me to think theologically — that is, to draw rational conclusions about God in keeping with the Reformed theological tradition. Throughout the years of my active ministry, I kept searching for ways to fill traditional theological concepts with meanings that fit for today.
The Good News Bible provides a refreshing, helpful translation of 2 Corinthians 5:16ff by changing the reference from reconciliation to friend-making. In retrospect, however, the text is still dealing with the attributes of an external, transcendent God and the Messiah (Christ) as an historical figure. Helpful, but not enough!
In retirement I have appreciated the more progressive theologians and biblical scholars — for example, John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Gordon Kauffman, Catherine Keller, et al. More recently, I have been devouring the writings of John Caputo. His ‘weak’ theology (“God doesn’t exist; God insists”) loosened the soil around my impacted theological roots. It was as if I could breathe again. This was followed by Elizabeth Boyden Howes’ Jesus’ Answer to God and Walter Wink’s The Human Being. Then came the piece de resistance — Herman Waetjen’s A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Marks Gospel.
I had already begun to use the name Yeshua (rather than Jesus). After reading Howes I have come to realize that, when we say “Jesus,” we want immediately to add “Christ” and the “Son of God” followed by “who died for our sins” — Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died for our sins.
I have given up God as an objective, external reality — the Supreme Being no longer ‘fits.’ I have appreciated Tillich’s description of God as the “infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being.” I’ve always thought this description was helpful; in truth, however, I’ve never been sure what that means. Gordon Kaufmann talks about “serendipitous creativity” — a good description of the unfolding creative nature of the universe, but not so helpful in theological discussions. While I admit that there is a profound dynamic at the center of human life that calls me toward something greater — I am willing to call that God (or, more preferably, the God-process) — I am at a loss to be able to adequately describe it. Hence, I resort to such terms as Divinity, Mystery, Spirit, Other, Ineffable, Higher Power, or the Infinite Whatever. All I know is that I experience that profound dynamic as an unheard inner voice that insists, invites, calls, nudges, proposes… a transactional event that leaves me to figure out how to respond.
Fortunately, I have access to one who figured out how to respond to that insistence and call within himself — Yeshua. It is as if I become Menas in the icon of friendship. It is my shoulder that Yeshua embraces. That embrace bestows messianic possibilities in both of us — hence, the halos. The friendship of Yeshua is not mere acquaintance; it is deep, intimate friendship that grows over time. It is a friendship that I have run away from and returned to on numerous occasions. Friendship with Yeshua leaves all my options open — that is, it does not require subjection to a pro forma system or pattern of relationship. Instead, as the relationship grows (deepens) I become more self-aware (and, perhaps, so does Yeshua), more genuine, more whole. Therein is my salvation, almost!
This friendship is an invitation to reach out beyond myself, to extend friendship to the world around me — especially to the marginalized and disadvantaged. Genuine friendship always seeks justice for the friend. Therein is salvation — not my warm feelings of intimacy, but the well-being of all in society!