Advent Friendship Reflection, Day 8

After college, I served a little over two years with the Church of the Brethren's volunteer program. As volunteers, we had to agree to serve wherever they would place us, and in turn they would provide us housing, board, transportation to project sites (and back home again), and a stipend of something like $50.00 per month for extras. The first placement they sent me to was to work on Capital Hill in Northeast Washington DC in their soup kitchen. I think it is fair to say that the experiences there, and later in my European project shaped my theology and my outlook to this day. One person I remember from DC was a gentleman, whom I will leave unnamed for this story, who slept nightly on the doorsteps of the basement entryway of the church's commercial kitchen. Each morning, when we came to open up the kitchen and get started preparing soup and lunch for an average of 200 or so persons, he would greet us, often with breakfast. You see, he and some of the other guys who worked with us knew the times and locations where restaurants and grocery stores would set out the previous day's bagels, donuts, etc. and would "dumpster dive" to bring it in to share for breakfast. As I got to know this particular gentleman, I learned that he was a veteran, had some education, and had had a career at one point. His brother was a successful business person who owned a home in Arlington, and would come around once or twice a month to check on him, and see if he could persuade him again to come live with him and his family and "get his life together." He had some mental health issues, probably substance abuse issues as well. But at some point he had made the choice to step out and live on the margins, sleeping on the street and in the parks. And each day he told us how blessed and thankful he felt, for he was acutely aware that only by God's grace did he awake each morning to live and breathe.

In Matt 11:19/Luke 7:34 Jesus proudly proclaims the insults that others have hurled at him that he is a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In my book, I show how this saying is likely authentic to the historical Jesus. As such it gives us insight into how Jesus viewed friendship and community in his movement. His view is a radical departure from the Greek philosophers we have been discussing this week. When they talked about friendship, they of course only had in mind that it was possible between elite high status males over the age of forty. Aristotle indeed says that true friendships between high and low status people are not possible and will quickly dissolve into relationships of patronage, since the lower status person cannot possibly repay the high status person's generosity. He ruled out entirely friendships between gods and humans. Yet Jesus is proud that he is being perceived as a friend to the undesirables, the outcast, the misfits, and those who recognize daily that there is no place for them in society. Today, people might say Jesus is friend to the homeless, the druggies, the prostitutes, the Mexican lawn-jockeys, and the pimp dealers who drive around with the bass thudding in their late model Lincolns. And yes, Jesus just might be friend to the gentleman whose story I shared above, as he in his own way offered hospitality to us with breakfast each morning.

I know today's reflection is really long. I guess I'm just curious how we have ended up making the holidays a celebration of our families and friendships, our desire for consumer goods, and our sense of contentment and wealth; because when I read the story of Mary and Joseph, I see a poor unhoused couple that is just living by grace. Have there ever been times in your life in which you have not only felt excluded but so judged and useless that you have interiorized that feeling to such an extent that you made yourself unworthy of love, friendship, or family? Have you ever approached or even stepped out on those lonely margins? Maybe you have something to say about friendship, hospitality, and grace in the human condition that the rest of us need to stop and attend to in this season.

Each day of advent, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, I plan to post a few thoughts on an aspect of friendship I learned while writing my book, Virtuous Friendship: The New Testament, Greco-Roman Friendship Language, and Contemporary Community, available on Amazon through this link. This will be a chance for me to share with you all a little bit from what I learned, while giving you, hopefully, a chance to take a deep breath during this busy season and do some reflection. Also, you won't have to secure another resource for Advent. I realize that you are all at many different places with regard to faith and belief, so use these reflections however you see fit. If you'd be interested in having me come speak at your church, lead a Bible Study, or even just Zoom or Skype in for a Q&A with a Sunday School class or other small group, let me know:


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