Enemies have a way of bringing friends together.
You’ve experienced this plenty of times. Someone comes to you and complains about somebody else, and you say, “Oh yeah. She’s the worst.” It’s a moment of togetherness, of solidarity between you, and it feels good. You give each other affirmation by sharing scorn for an outsider.
Psychologists call this phenomenon ‘triangulation.’ It can be a method for manipulating people, but it also provides comfort and security. Actually confronting someone with whom we have a problem is a lot of work - it takes a great deal of focus and resolve, and frankly, it can be scary. Triangulation is a way to get around all that discomfort, and to get encouragement from somebody who will just agree with you in your resentment.
We recognize this dynamic – that people feel closer when they name the bad guys together – and yet, we have to know that this closeness is not real friendship. Not to say that true friends won’t sometimes dish about people who get on their nerves, but the closeness created by targeting a third party is not a basis for real friendship. Real friends don’t just assure each other that they’re the good guys. Real friends sit with one another through trials and tribulation, delight in one another’s joy, abide one another’s mistakes, and - here’s the really hard one – real friends hold one another accountable in love.
Think about a time when you’ve gone to a friend, expecting her to agree with you about how selfish or stupid or stubborn what’s-his-name was being, and your friend wouldn’t just commiserate. “Actually,” she said, “You’re not being fair – you’re contributing more to the problem than you think.” Man, that stings! How could your friend not take your side?
Well, it may be a moment like this when a friend shows you how fully they care for you. Because a true friend will always stand with you, but they don’t always agree with you. They don’t always congratulate you. They don’t always assure you you’re right.
Over the span of a lifetime you comprehend that the people who really love you will not only defend you when you’re attacked, and they won’t just lift you up when you’re down. They’ll also help you face the facts when you’re in the wrong.
Just before Jesus was arrested, he had a last supper with his disciples. He gave them bread and wine that symbolized his sacrifice, covenant and forgiveness. But he also told them something none of them wanted to be true - he knew that one of their group was in the process of betraying him with actions that would bring about his death. Hearing this, Simon Peter, who always wanted to be Jesus’ best friend, drew near to let him know that they were in this together. “Just want to say, I’m one of the good guys like you, Jesus. It’s you and me, Jesus, and whoever this evil-doer is, we’ll face him together.”
But this was not a time when Jesus would encourage a friend by condemning somebody else. In this critical moment, he’d only allow the whole truth, hard as it was to accept, or even comprehend. “Peter,” Jesus said. “You will deny me as surely as that other one will betray me.”
These were bitter words for Peter to hear, and when he later proved them true by his own actions, he was consumed by anguish and shame unlike anything he’d ever felt. I’m certain he lived with some amount of pain from this failure for the rest of his days.
But Jesus’ unflinching honesty about Peter’s frailty did not destroy the bond between them. Quite the contrary, in time, Peter arose from his fear and shame and his life became a courageous testament to the world-changing power of Christ’s Way.
Peter’s devotion to Jesus grew deeper precisely because Jesus didn’t make friends by making enemies. The way to get close to Jesus was not then, and it isn’t now, to buddy up by derision, deciding who’s good and bad, who's in and who's out. A life-changing friendship with Christ is forged not by drawing a line that puts you on the side of Jesus, but by living openly and honestly with your own limits and mistakes, and extending grace to all the world’s flawed people.
Because not only is Jesus unafraid to name the truth of our problems. He stays through the trouble - unafraid to heal, unafraid to forgive, unafraid to love.
Even you. Even me.
The Table is a Christian church in Davenport, Iowa, seeking transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Easter Sunday Worship - 4.21 at 5pm!
102 E. 2nd St., Davenport, Iowa