There's plenty in contemporary Christianity to remind us that at the core of it all is a friendship - Jesus is a friend of sinners, and He calls us friends of God. This is a beautiful image, but it kind of makes friendship seem really difficult. As a friend of sinners, Jesus fought the forces that be and healed infirmity in the fallen. As friends of God, the disciples gave up everything they had and traveled around with Jesus, eventually putting their own lives on the line. If we're not careful, we can get the idea that friendship is all crusading and sacrifice. And maybe, sometimes, it is.
But most of us just want to be friends, not heroes or martyrs. Most of us just want the kind of close, intimate fraternity that lets us do life together without always calling us to the front lines. We want a quiet kind of friendship. Isn't there any place for that?
There is, and it comes from one of the most beautiful stories of friendship in all of Scripture - Exodus 17.
It probably seems weird to be going all the way back to the wilderness for a story of what friendship really looks like, but we're kind of in the wilderness again, aren't we? We're somewhere between Egypt and Canaan, between a land of slavery and the Promised Land. We're somewhere between wherever we came from and a place called Home. So there's no better place to look for an example of how to live than the wilderness.
So here we are in the wilderness, and Israel is engaged in battle. (Sorry - no matter where you go in the Scriptures, you can't get far away from a fight. This fallen world is all about fighting.) Moses is leading his people against the enemy, and after gathering the troops under the command of the brilliant Joshua, Moses goes to the mountain, where he can see everything. He takes with him Aaron, his brother, and Hur.
As long as Moses keeps his arms raised over the battle, Israel wins; when he puts his arms down, they lose. But battles aren't easy, nor are they quick, and at some point, Moses starts to get tired. His arms are sore. His whole body is burning from maintaining this posture of victory. Aaron and Hur see Moses's arms starting to shake, so they quickly get a rock and put it under him, where he can sit down, and then each man takes one of Moses's arms and holds it up for him, dividing the burden that Moses carries now between the three of them.
There are two keys to this tremendous act of friendship. First, we have to recognize that all three men are standing on the same holy ground. They all see plainly what God is doing, even though only Moses, at the beginning, has assumed responsibility in it. They're all watching the battle between Israel and the enemy army. They all recognize that when Moses raises his arms, Israel wins. They are all tuned in to the presence and the action of God in this moment. And they believe in what's happening.
Second, the two men who do not have responsibility here (yet) look at the one who does and see something very human about him: he's tired. They have compassion on him. They tend to his needs. They take care of his aching. They do what they can, human to human, to ease the burden that he carries in this holy fight. They have one eye on their brother and one eye on the fight, one eye looking at holy things and one eye looking at human things. And they come alongside Moses and make it happen.
These are the keys to any good friendship. First, we have to get the perspective that our friend has on God things. Everyone you meet is part of a holy fight. We're all called to do the holy things that God has given us to do, and He's given them to us to do because they are meaningful for a bigger battle. The first thing we have to do is recognize, from our brother's vantage point, what God is doing. What is God doing that our brother has a part in? What is his present holy undertaking? We need holy eyes.
And then we need human eyes because it doesn't matter if our brother is Moses or Bob; he's a human being. He's got human needs. He's got human frailty. He's got human weakness. We have to be willing to look at our brother, to see what he's engaged in, and to recognize where his humanity is struggling. Moses was tired. Is our brother tired? It's not enough to say, "Yo, man, you look tired." Get a rock. Invite him to sit down. Hold him up. Step in and share part of the burden. Have a bit of compassion and do something very human from the very human place inside of you that knows what it is to struggle.
That's how to be a friend. It takes both of these - holy eyes to see what God is up to and human eyes to see how to help. We can't lose sight of either.
You know....now that I think about it, this actually sounds pretty familiar. You could probably sum it up pretty easily in just a couple of short phrases. Maybe something like, Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Yeah, that would probably work.