Can you keep a secret? I have a confession to make. I have 766 friends on Facebook. True, that’s the latest as of 9.54 pm last night and counting. It’s quite a lot of ‘friends’ really. But many of them are just acquaintances. Some I just met once. And some I have never personally met at all. I’m sure only very few of them I can honestly call my ‘friends’. I’m telling you this, not to brag about this or to discourage you of befriending me on FB, but because today’s gospel challenges me to have a review at the list of friends I have. Today’s gospel can be the answer on ‘how to test a real friend’ or ‘A Test of Real Friendship.’
Mark in our gospel today tells us of Jesus healing the paralysed by forgiving his sins and thus curing him of his physical illness as well. But it is only upon ‘seeing their faith’ that Jesus speaks to the sick man. Jesus saw the great faith of the men carrying the sick. The man was carried by four men ‘assumed’ to be his friends. As friends they didn’t give up. They didn’t go back home immediately when they couldn’t even pass through the door of the house because of the squeezing crowd inside. In fact, they took the extreme measure in order to express their faith in Jesus. They climbed up to the roof, made an opening and lowered the sick man to get closer to Jesus. As friends, they have such faith and confidence in Jesus that they tried all possible means to present their friend to Jesus. And seeing their faith, Jesus forgives and heals the man.
This is a test of real friendship. A true friend is someone who brings us brings us closer to God. A genuine friend is one who takes the risk, no matter how big or how difficult a task it is, just to save his or her friend. A true friend is one who not only give alms to the leper but touches and embraces them as Mother Teresa did. A true friend is one who doesn’t stop doing good for his/ her friend even if he/she is being ridiculed, rejected, frowned upon, or sick and unable to return back the favour.
Now that we heard this, do we have someone we can count on as friends?
Surely, we have. We have a friend in Jesus. He not only said “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” but he really did realize it in himself. And we reflect and hear more of this coming Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. He laid down his life for us. He sacrificed himself for all of us. He even experienced the rejection, the betrayal of his closest and chosen disciples, and the shout of crucifixion from those same people who had welcomed him very warmly on Palm Sunday. But despite all that, He would still call us his friends by trusting us the treasures of the Kingdom of His Father. Despite all our shortcomings, human weaknesses and constant sinning, he would still utter that ever powerful word on the cross interceding for all of us saying ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’ (Lk 23:34).
Because of all that Jesus has done, we became friends of God. Thus, as friends of God in Jesus, we also are to be friends to one another. Our liturgical celebration is always motivated to express this friendship with God and with one another, in worship, in reconciliation, praise and thanksgiving. Thus, our gesture of expressing the sign of peace in the mass is not just there to fill in the gap. That serves to remind us that in God we are all one family and that each one is always ‘someone’ special for God. That is how beautiful our friendship with God is. That must also be the ideal of human friendship: valuing each other. God values us all no matter how small we may feel, or how insignificant we might think we are. In God, no one is more equal than the other. So also must we.
Being our friend, Jesus shows us how to be a real friend to one another. He welcomes the sinner. He appreciates and acknowledges the faith of the four men in the gospel and suggesting that they’ve done the right thing and the good initiative. As a friend, he forgives the fault done to him. Interestingly, the prophet Isaiah has somehow experienced this friendship with God when he wrote of God telling us in our First Reading today: ‘No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before…It is I, who must blot out everything and not remember your sins.’ Is it not a wonderful experience when God himself would tell us in a way: ‘Let’s call it quits, will we?’ St Paul in our Second Reading today would also tell us the same thing: That in Jesus, God has assured us of His power and sustenance through his Spirit dwelling in our hearts.
Now let’s ask ourselves about the test of real friendship: Are we now friends of Jesus? If so, are we expressing this friendship by bringing all our friends closer to him as well? Jesus as a friend, brings us closer to his Father’s heart. How are we as friends? Are we willing to take a big risk or to go through extreme measures just to bring our friend closer to God, and be healed, be forgiven, and become whole again? Or are we taking our friends away from God?