Fr. Glenn: Fair Weather Friends

By Fr. Glenn Jones:

You may have seen last week various videos of former President Obama’s warm reception at the White House. Whether a supporter or critic of the President, it was sad to see Biden seemingly ignored by the same persons who had feted him only a little more than a year ago in the campaign. His administration now beset with problems like inflation, possible recession looming, the Ukraine war and low approval scores, his true friends seemed nowhere to be found. The President may have recalled Walter Winchell: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

Many of us have experienced similar, albeit not as public, situations—the grade-school friend who decided to hang with the “cooler” kids, the clingy co-worker nowhere to be seen when you’re denied a promotion, or even—perhaps especially—when you change your view on some politically-charged issue. We see even family members disowned or disinvited to functions over such things. Tragic, really, that many can’t brook an opposing opinion. In that loss of tolerance to dialogue is the attendant loss of coming to greater understanding of issues and the discernment between truth and error, preferring our own unchallenged, though often unrefined and even erroneous, ideas.

Now, this weekend many Christians remember one of the starkest examples of abandonment as they observe Palm Sunday, a.k.a., “Passion” Sunday, from the Greek “passio”, the root meaning “suffering”—commemorating and, in many denominations, reenacting to various extents Jesus’ final days, particularly His final 24 hours.

It begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (with palm branches from which the day is given its popular name, strewn by the crowd lining His path—an honor for kings), final interactions in Jerusalem, and culminating with the Last Supper at Passover, His arrest, condemnation, crucifixion, death and entombment. And, of course, His arrest was most infamously facilitated in His betrayal by Judas Iscariot—a name now synonymous with basest treachery. Though chosen among many to be an apostle and share in Jesus’ closest friendship and ministry, that root of all evil—love of money (1 Timothy 6:10)—led him to betrayal.

Yet Judas was not the only one who failed in faith; in fact, ALL of the apostles did to some extent—fleeing and abandoning Jesus in the Garden when He was arrested. Saving their own skins despite their very recent pledges to even die with Him if necessary.

Ah, but bravery and bluster are easy when danger is absent, less so when it looms. The apostles flee imminent apprehension—all but Peter and John (John 18:15-16). Yet these two retreat into the refuge of anonymity while Jesus undergoes interrogation by the kangaroo court, Peter even warming himself by a fire. We are tempted to enter the scene: “Well, are you warm and comfy, Peter, while your master and teacher is wrongly accused of religious capital crime and slapped around?”

Peter could not muster courage to declare himself as Jesus’ disciple—His friend—out of fear for his own well-being. We Christians like to bluster and posture: “Terrible! I’d have never abandoned Jesus, no matter what!” Well, we’d like to think that, and that’s easy to say when we’re quietly reading the Bible “warm and comfy” in our living room absent any loss of prestige, disdain, rejection, etc., and certainly not facing a specter of flogging and crucifixion that Jesus would soon be undergoing (see “The Passion of the Christ” for one of the horrifying portrayals of such).

And yet … do we fail our friends, family and companions even under much less harsh circumstances and challenges, like politicians fleeing allies caught in scandal as we often see in the political “rats fleeing the sinking ship” scenarios? We are reminded of scripture: “When a rich man totters, he is steadied by friends, but when a humble man falls, he is even pushed away by friends” (Sirach 13:21) and “A man’s enemies are grieved when he prospers, and in his adversity even his friend will separate from him.” (Sirach 12:9)

Such is a far cry from values that Jesus taught—to love one’s enemies and to do good and no harm even to those who believe themselves your enemies. In fact, one of Jesus’ best-known parables highlights that very principle—the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)—“best known” because of that very principle of charity and compassion towards even historical adversaries that it espouses. That way, as St. Paul writes, quoting scripture: “…‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink…’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21) Abraham Lincoln might have recalled that verse as he responded to criticisms about not being harsh enough to the defeated South: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Certainly our allegiance is always first and foremost to what is truly good; neither friends nor family ought take precedence over that bedrock principle. And yet we need not discard friend, family or even foe because of differing sincerely-held beliefs.

But as for friend-to-friend, seek to be the best and most loyal of friends—not “fair weather”, but “all-weather” friends; we know how rare (and cherished) they are. Good and faithful friends are few and far between, fair-weather friends a dime a dozen. Let us strive to be those who are ever treasured, remembering how Jesus exemplified friendship in saying—and fulfilling: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him.

(Sirach 6:14-16)

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

    Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3)

Of all possessions a friend is the most precious.

Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.

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