Jesus - Friend and Brother
Fr. Thomas Hopko · July 10, 2010
We affirm as central to the Great Tradition both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, but today Fr. Tom focuses on the humanity of Christ as our Friend and Brother.
We Orthodox Christians are perhaps known among all the Christians for affirming the divinity of Christ, affirming that he is really God’s divine Son with the same divinity as God the Father, that he is really God in human flesh. He is the devar Yahweh. He is the Word of God, the Logos tou Theou, who is Theos, who is God. We relate to Jesus constantly as our Lord and our God, our Master, our Savior, our Redeemer. We glorify him to the nth degree. Perhaps this is because, historically, especially in recent times, there is this tendency to say that Jesus is “just a man like we are; he’s nothing different; he’s maybe the best and the highest of creatures,” as Arius said, way back in the fourth century, “but he’s certainly not divine with the same divinity as God. He is not God; he’s a creature.”
And then there are folks who will say, “Well, he is a human being. Yes, he’s a man, but he’s only a man; he’s just a man.” You know, as the Jesus Christ Superstar song was, when I was young; you had that part of the operetta where Mary Magdalene sings, “He’s just a man. He’s just a man.” I remember singing back, “No, he’s not. No, he’s not. He’s also God.” He is really a man, but not “merely” a man.
But when we say that Jesus is a man, a human being… And it is a dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church that Jesus is human with exactly the same humanity that you and I have. He is divine with exactly the same divinity as the one God and Father, and also the Holy Spirit, but he is also really human, exactly like you and I. And the Council of Chalcedon, the ecumenical council, fourth council, said this very specifically, that he is homoousios to Patri, of one divine being with God the Father, and that he is homoousios, of the very same nature, with human beings, with man, with all human beings. And he is therefore perfectly, completely, totally divine and perfectly and totally, completely human.
Now, the Orthodox Church also, the ancient Christian Church, is affirming, thanks be to God, with many other Christians, that Jesus really is human, that God really became a man. He who is divine has become now human, without ceasing to be divine. In technical terms, he is one Person in two natures, out of and in two natures. He is the divine Son of God who becomes human and becomes the son of Mary, a real human being.
But here, I have to say again, and I’ve said this on the radio before, and I believe we must say it again, it’s that there is a tendency for those who are so insistent on the divinity of Jesus, somehow to minimize or compromise his real humanity. They’ll say, “Oh yes, he really was a man, but still he was omniscient, but still he could do anything, but still he could work any miracle,” and so on, and they don’t really want to admit the reality of the Incarnation. And here I think it’s very, very important—you can’t stress it too much—that as a real man, Jesus had all the qualities of being human. He had a human mind, a human body, a human soul, human passions, human emotions. He had a human time, a human place, a human nationality—he was a Jew, for example, very much so, and we must never, ever minimize the Jewishness of Jesus. He’s a Jew. Salvation is of the Jews. He is the Jewish Messiah.
And in his humanity, he is limited. He is not omniscient. As our Church hymns always say: He who is infinite became finite. He who is uncreated took the form of a creature. He who is boundless has become circumscribed. He who has no flesh has become flesh. He who is invisible has become visible. He who cannot touch, you can now touch, you can smell, you can taste. He’s a real human being, [a] real human being in every way. And that has to be stressed. And you cannot stress it too much.
Among the names and titles of Jesus, we already reflected on the fact that he is man. He is anthropos. He is anēr. He is human being—anthropos—and he is anēr—male human being. He’s a masculine human being. Not a woman; he’s a man. But he’s a real human being, the man Jesus. And as such, we reflected on his being the Adam, that the original earthling, the original earth-creature, was a type of him who was to come, and that he is the man from heaven, the life-creating Spirit, given to us, but he is still a real human being.
He’s a real man. He’s a new and last Adam. He is an earth-creature. He bears flesh. He’s seated at the right hand of God the Father at his Ascension, as we sing in church, “in his flesh most pure.” He shows Thomas the marks of his hands and so on. He eats and drinks even when he is risen from the dead. So he remains human forever. And from all eternity, we might say from God’s perspective, the Son of God somehow for God was always divine and human, because there’s no time for God. We can’t even imagine what it was before he was incarnate. We don’t know anything about that. That’s hidden from our understanding. So we affirm again and again the real humanity of Jesus.
Today what we want to reflect upon are two of the—you might say they’re not titles in the way that some other words are titles—but they certainly can be names and titles of Jesus Christ. One of them is our Friend, and the other is our Brother, because Jesus is not only our God and our Lord and our Master, he is also our Friend and our Brother. And he who is our Lord and God and Master has become, in his humanity, our Friend and our Brother. And he even shows the eternal friendship of God for his creatures, because in the Old Covenant, Abraham was called the “friend of God,” and even as it says in the psalm, “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him.”
So in the Old Testament, in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, all those who were God-fearing, who held God in awe, who confess God’s holiness, who kept God’s commandments, were called the “friends of God.” And that term, “friend,” is “philos.” And we even have that term—it’s used only once in the New Testament, very often in Orthodox Liturgy—”philanthropia,” that Christ is Philanthropos. He’s the Friend of man, Friend of humanity. And it might even be better to translate “philanthropos” or “cheloveka lyubit’” in Slavonic as not so much “lover of man” or “lover of mankind” or “lover of humanity,” [but] as “friend of humanity,” because “philia” means “friendship.”
We want to think a little bit about this word “friend,” that God is our Friend, and he is not our enemy. He is not hostile to us. He’s not our adversary. He is the one who is our Friend, and the friend is the one who’s always there. The friend is the one that you can trust. The friend is not the one who is fickle. He’s not a fair-weather friend. He’s not just our friend when things are going well, but he’s our friend when things are going badly. He’s our friend not only when we do well, but he’s our friend even when we sin.
If you have a really good friend, that friend will be your friend even when you sin against that friend, even when you offend him. Somehow, that’s even how friendship is tested. If people are truly friends, and Sirach in the Wisdom literature speaks about what a true friend is… Well, a true friend is there all the time, no matter what. That’s what a true friend is. A friend is not only one who does not betray, but the friend is the one who does not run away. And the friend is the one who isn’t nice when you’re nice and kind when you’re kind and good when he can get something from you and being affectionate towards you when that’s a pleasurable thing to do, but a friend, love in the form of friendship, is the one who is always there and always with you and always at your side and never betraying and never fleeing and never going away, no matter what.
And also the friend, as a definition of that term, “friend,” is the one [whom] you are intimate with. A friend is the one that you can tell anything to, and it won’t break the friendship. You could share the most horrid things, and that friend’ll still be by you. Not only you can do the most horrid things and be the most horrid person and that friend will still be with you, but you can share, you can tell everything. The friend knows everything. He is the one that can be perfectly trusted not to betray, not to harm, not to retaliate, not to be vindictive, not to do vengeance, not to be offended and even to be angry.
Oh, yeah, friends get angry with each other, but they follow the Scripture which says, “Be angry, but don’t sin.” That’s Psalm 4:4: “Be angry, but don’t sin.” St. Paul quoted that in the Letter to the Ephesians: “Be angry, but don’t sin.” And anger and wrath, as we reflected on in Speaking the Truth in Love, reflections on the wrath of God, to be angry and to get really, you know, miffed at someone, is a sign of friendship. If you don’t love someone and they’re not your friend, you don’t even care what they do. If some person that, in fact, you don’t like very much and don’t consider as a friend, does bad or stupid or destructive things, you could care less. “Well, that’s him. Let him do it.” But when your friend does that, well, then you get disappointed and you get angry. So anger is actually a sign of friendship.
I had a teacher in the seminary, Mrs. Sophie Koulomzin, her name was, Sophie, Sophia Koulomzin. She was our teacher of Christian education. She was a pedagogue. She taught pedagogics and how to [teach]. I almost didn’t graduate from the seminary because of her class. I got an ‘F’ in it, and then I had to do some extra work to try to get my degree from the seminary, because I just simply could not write a fourth-grade lesson plan. I just couldn’t do it. I tried my best and I just couldn’t do it. I flunked the course and I had to do some other things to make up so I could get a ‘C’ and pass and graduate with my class.
But Sophie Koulomzin once said something in a talk, in a class—I don’t know if it was a class or a talk—but it really struck me. She said how she was visiting this married couple, and she was there for about a week or so, and she had this deep feeling that something was not right there, that they were not getting along, that things were strained. And then it actually happened, shortly after she visited them, that she discovered these people were at enmity with each and, in fact, they were leading to a separation and a divorce and so on.
But she said in that talk, she said, “The reason that I had that feeling was they never seemed to get angry at each other. The whole week I was there, they didn’t show any annoyance, any irritation. They didn’t lose their temper. They were all self-controlled” and so on. She said, “I felt it was artificial. I felt it was constrained. I felt that something was wrong.” She said, “Because when people are friends or they love each other, they fight!”
They argue, and hopefully civilly and not in any mean or embarrassing or shaming way, but you can get angry and you can show your feeling to someone who’s your friend, because you know the friendship is not going to be broken. You can be who you are with a friend. And that friend will remain your friend, and, hopefully, the same thing is in reverse: they can be what they are, and you can be their friend. That’s what friendship is about.
So God is said to be the great Friend of mankind, the Philanthropos. Well, Jesus is also insisting that he is our Friend. And in St. John’s Gospel, you have the section in the fifteenth chapter which leads to our present meditation. This is what it says. It says this (John 15:12-17):
This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Then it says:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants (or that word could actually be translated “slaves”) for the slave (or the servant) does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends. For all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain (should abide). So then, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you: that you love one another.
This text is important for us, because we are servants of Christ. St. Paul will use that expression all the time. We are servants of God. Christ himself was the servant of God, and we become co-servants, together with Christ, of God. But we also, according to Scripture, become servants of Christ, slaves of Christ. St. Paul uses that expression many times. For example, in the Letter to the Romans, he speaks about becoming slaves of Christ, slaves of God, slaves of the Lord. And he even says that, as we were slaves of sin, we should then become slaves of righteousness. He uses that expression of slaves. And, of course, he insists that Jesus is the slave, and the slave is the slave of that which he obeys.
It is definitely the case that we consider ourselves servants, or the more powerful translation in English of “doulos” would be “slave” of righteousness, slave of God, slave of what is good. Let’s just read that a little bit, when we think about slaves. It says this (Romans 6:16-23):
Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey? Either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness. But thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. And having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.
But just as once you yielded your members to impurity, to greater [and] greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness, but then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin, you have become slaves of God. The return you get is sanctification and its end: eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
We don’t want to give up that term that we are servants of God, servants of Christ, slaves of God. And we use those terms liturgically in our Orthodox Church. When a person comes to Holy Communion, for example, we say, “The servant of God,” we say their name—“John,” “Mary”—receives the precious Body and Blood of Christ. When we pray for a person, we pray for the servant of God. When a person dies, we say, “Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of your servant, your slave.” But we should know that the same way that the slaves have become sons of God in Jesus, Jesus becoming the slave has transformed us into sons, so we no longer have the status of slaves, we have the status of sons or children of God. And even the women, the Gentile, slave women, now become, have the status of sons of God in Jesus.
We become sons. We’re going to reflect on that in a minute, when we reflect on Jesus as our Brother. But now, thinking of the term, “friend,” we see that, as servants of God and servants of Christ, in that service we become friends. And our friendship in a sense is not slavish, but we can say, perhaps paradoxically, that when you do become a person’s friend and really are a person’s friend as we just were describing friendship, there is an element of servitude there. A real friend would consider himself the slave of the one whose friend he is. He would serve that other person as if he were owned by him, bought by him, belonged to him, because friendship is a form of mutual belonging. We belong to one another. We are members, one of another. That’s what constitutes our friendship.
So this friendship does have this element of also kind of a servitude, being the servant of each other, even to the point of being a slave, because we feel that the friendship is such that in total freedom we have to be completely bound, in bondage, so to speak, to the other person, but in freedom. It’s a paradox. And everything about Christianity is paradoxical. To be a [really] and a [totally] obedient person, you have you be really free. To be really free, you have to be really obedient. To be really in the communion of, like brother and sister and friend, you have to be a real servant of one another, slave of one another. This is how it works.
In all this language, all the languages, [are] tentative, so to speak, relative to the realities. We make these affirmations and then we modify them and nuance them to understand what we’re talking about. But what we are talking about now is definitely friends, and to be friends. Here in St. John’s Gospel, this use of that term, “friend,” loving in the sense of friendship, it’s also a word in St. John’s Gospel, not only in the fifteenth chapter does he say, “You are my friends: you know everything that I’m doing; I’ve hidden nothing from you. Everything that I have, I’ve given to you. Everything that God has told me, I’ve told to you. You are my friends. I no longer call you servants; I call you friends,” but we know that in the end of St. John’s Gospel—perhaps this was a later addition to the Gospel as originally written; we don’t know, [but] it seems that way when you study it by literary criticism—but you have in the end of St. John’s Gospel as we now have it: Jesus encountering the Apostle Peter and asking him three times whether he loves him.
Of course, the Orthodox traditional interpretation of this particular text is that Peter had denied Jesus three times, and there probably was some question about his apostleship, whether he really should have been an apostle at all, and certainly whether or not he should be the leader of the apostles, because he denied Jesus three times. He disowned him. He said, “I don’t know the man.” He cursed and swore and everything. It’s one of the most dramatic parts of the Gospels, Peter’s, not betrayal, but his denial, his disowning of Jesus: “I do not know the man.” So some people thought that Peter was out.
In St. Mark’s Gospel, for example, when the women see the risen Christ, the women are told to go back and to tell the apostles and Peter that the Lord is risen. Sometimes people wonder, “Why did it say, ‘Go tell the apostles and Peter’?” Some people think, “Oh, that was because Peter was special.” Well, it seems that just the opposite was true. “Go tell the apostles who were faithful, and also tell Peter, because he’s going to get reinstated and he’s going to be the head of the apostles, but you can tell him, too, even though he’s a disowner; even though he was a denier.”
So there’s this problem about Peter, and in St. John’s Gospel, there’s clearly a problem about Peter. The beloved disciple and Peter, they’re juxtaposed to each other throughout the Gospels, if you read it carefully. We can’t get into that now, but what we want to get into now is how, at the end of St. John’s Gospel, Peter, Jesus encounters Peter and comes to him and he reveals himself, of course, to the disciples and Simon Peter’s there and they go fishing and Peter sees him and he throws himself into the sea again and so on. And they now know that he is risen from the dead, and Peter is among them, and then after that the miraculous catching of fish, so to speak, and they [wonder at] the catching of the fish. They eat, and the risen Christ eats and drinks with them. They break the fast, so to speak; they have this fish.
And then it says, when they had eaten, when they had breakfasted, when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas,” or son of John, depending on how you read it, “do you love me more than these others?” And Peter answers him, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” And it’s interesting, because when Jesus asked the question, he says, when he says, “Do you love me?” he says, “Agapas me;—Do you love me with agapē love?” Agapē love was the name for God in the Scripture. God is agapē. “Agapē” means “charitable love.” Do you do good to me; do you share with me; do you give your life to me? That’s agapē.
But Peter answers, “Nai, Kyrie—yes, Lord,” but he says, “you know that I love you.” And you could actually translate that: “You know that I’m your friend,” because he doesn’t use the verb from “agapē”; he uses the verb from “philia.” Then the second time that Jesus speaks to Simon—he’s going to do it three times, to reinstate him, so to speak—he’s going to say again, “Simon, son of John (son of Jonah), agapas me;—do you love me?” Peter again answers, “Philos se—I am your friend; I love you.” He doesn’t use “agapō.” A third time Jesus asks him, he says, “Philis me;—Are you my friend really?” And he switches the verb from the “agapē” word to the “philia” word: Are you my friend? Are you really my friend?
And here, Peter kind of loses it again. He’s got this volatile temperament, personality. He says, “You know everything!” You know: “Why do you keep asking me?” And: “Philis me”? Why do you keep asking me the third time, “Do you love me? Are you my friend?” And he says—kai eipen aftō: “Kyrie—Lord, you know all things.” You know everything. You know that philō se, I am your friend, I love you. So it’s interesting that the verb that’s used there is the verb for friendship. Twice you have the verb from the “agapē”; four times you have the verb from “friendship.” Peter uses the friendship verb three times in his answers, and Jesus used it one time out of the three. The third time he asks him, he uses that verb. So to be the friend is very important.
Sometimes we Orthodox and we ancient Christians, we don’t like to speak about Jesus as our Friend. It sounds too Protestant. We hear the song in our ears, “What a friend I have in Jesus,” and “Jesus is my buddy, Jesus is my friend.” We want to say, “Jesus is not my buddy! God is not a smiley face on a bumper sticker. God is majestic. God is awesome. God is fearful. God is glory. God is holy, holy, holy God! How can you say ‘friend’?” But you’ve got to say Friend. It’s Scriptural; it’s biblical. Jesus is our Friend.
And if you listen to one of the podcast that I made about calling God “Father,” and this Protestant man one time was chiding me and all the Orthodox because we call our priests “Father,” and then I got into a conversation, “Well, what should you call them?” And every single word that the guy came up with, I pointed out to him, was a word that belongs properly only to Jesus. If you say “Teacher,” Jesus is our only Teacher. You could call no man your Teacher. If you say “Pastor,” Jesus alone is the good Pastor, the good Shepherd. How could you call a man your Pastor? How could you call a man your Teacher? When the guy said, “Doctor,” I said, “Doctor is the Latin word for teacher.” It’s not a word for a physician—we’ll speak about that some other time—but doctor in that sense means like a doctor of philosophy, a teacher.
And then when he finally… I kidded him. I said, “And even if you’re a Quaker, if you’re a member of the Society of Friends, and you call each other friends, even there, the only real Friend we have is God and Jesus. No other friend can be [a] real friend. Every other friend has flaws and fragilities and failings. Only God and Christ are the perfect Friends.” So “Friend” is a very, very important title for Jesus.
It goes together, we might say, in some sense, with another term we want to think about now, doubling up here—“Friend” and “Brother”—because if Jesus is God’s Son, and he is, and he has said and done everything that he has said and done and accomplished in order to make us sons of God, children of God, tekna Theou and huioi Theou, and if we could even say that in Christ women, in the biblical symbolics of the term, become sons of God… In other words, even women, even Gentile women, even slave women, they have the same status as free Jewish men in the New Covenant. We all have the status of sons of God. We all have received huiosethia, the adoption of sonship. We spoke about this before when we spoke about Jesus as the Son of God. He has made us all into sons of God; every single human being is a son of God now, through what Jesus has done for us. Everything that he has done, and certainly his redemption of us by being crucified, raised, and glorified. So we have the status of sons.
So if we are sons of God and children of God, and Jesus is the Son of God and is even the Child of God, because Jesus is called the teknon—he’s also called even the pais, which means the son or the boy, the servant-son—then we have that same status. If we have that same status, then we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. And, of course, Christians use that expression. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. But we could also say we’re all brothers and sisters of Christ. We are Christ’s brothers and sisters, because we are what he is in relationship to God. We become, so to speak, God’s household, God’s oikos, God’s family. We become the new people that are the family of God, the people of God. And the people of God are all brothers and sisters.
And we are brothers and sisters with Jesus who has become our Brother. That’s very important, and in Scripture, as we know already, I’m sure, if we’ve been listening to these reflections, the fact that the term “brother” is used in Scripture… For example, we read when we were thinking about Jesus as the Sin and Curse, that he has become Brother with us in every respect. “He became like his brethren in every respect—chōris hamartian—apart from sin, without sin.”
“He became like his brethren in every respect.” And that’s a sentence from the Letter to the Hebrews. If he has become like his brethren in every respect, and it even says that he’s not ashamed to call them brethren, that he who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all one, therefore he can call them adelphous. He’s not ashamed aftois kalein adelphous, it says in Hebrews. He’s not ashamed to call them—and it says here in King James—“brethren.” In the RSV it says “brothers,” but actually it should be “brothers and sisters,” because “adelphous” is the plural form both of “brother” and “sister” in Greek. “Adelphos” is the brother; “adelphē” is the sister, and the plural is [”adelphoi”], “brothers and sisters.” So when we say, “brethren,” it means “brothers and sisters.” In the old English language, “brethren” means “brothers and sisters.”
So it says that Jesus, becoming human so that both he that sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one, they’re all of the same seed, actually is what it says in the Scripture, they are all one, ex henos pantes, all become one. It says because of this, di hēn, because, because of this reason, ouk epaischynetai, he is not ashamed to call them all brothers and sisters, saying, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren.” Again, it’s plural, so it would be “brothers and sisters.” And then he says:
“I again, I and the children whom God has given me.” For as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also likewise [partook] of the same (flesh and blood) that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
Jesus is a Child of God; Jesus is a Son of God. We become children of God through him; we become his brothers and his sisters. So we can relate to Jesus as our Brother, and that is fantastic to think, that in the Person of Christ, God Almighty becomes our Brother. He becomes our Friend and our Brother.
Nowhere in the Law and the Psalms and the Prophets would any human being be called a brother [or] a sister of God, [they might] be called a friend of God. God is our Friend, and we are his friend when we keep his commandments, but we would not be called a brother [or] sister. But in the New Testament we are called, not only friends, but we’re called brothers and sisters. We are brothers and sisters of Christ, and therefore he is our Brother.
So if he calls us friends—“You are my friends”—then we can say he is our Friend. If he says, “You are my brothers and we bear the same humanity together and I become what you are, and I’m not ashamed to call brothers and sisters, because I’ve become exactly what you are, and even more than that, I’ve taken on your sin and become a curse and everything else,” then we can say he is our Brother. So Christ is our Brother. It’s absolutely biblical and Scriptural to say that Christ is not only our Friend, but is also our Brother. We are his brothers and sisters, and we are his friends. And this is just marvelous to think. Isn’t it just marvelous to think that in and through Jesus Christ, in all that he said and did and everything that he became, he becomes our Friend and he becomes our Brother. And we become his friends, and we become his brothers and his sisters, with God himself, his Father, as our Father.
And the love of God, the friendship of God, the affection of God, even the eros of God, the desire to be really one. And C.S. Lewis, of course, has a book about The Four Loves. There’s four words for love in Greek that are used in the Bible: agapē love, philia love, storgē love, and eros love. And every single one of them is applied to God in Scripture. Even the erotic love: he becomes our Bridegroom, we become his Bride. We have the Song of Songs.
And this is how deep and true and real the Incarnation is, in becoming human, really human: the holy, holy, holy, ineffable, invisible, incomprehensible, unspeakable, inexpressible God becomes human. He becomes our slave. He becomes sin. He becomes a curse. And he becomes Friend and he becomes Brother. All these are real, and they are part of who and what Christ is for us, and for us he is certainly our Friend and our Brother. And we are for him, certainly, his friends and his brothers and sisters.