To be a friend or fiend?

“You are judged by the company you keep” is an ancient adage that rings of common sense. On the other hand, from the perspective of those who wish to judge others and seek to justify their gossip and half-truth, this can become a wicked mantra.

Lots of people stake their personal reputations on this notion — especially people who are at their best being friends when the going is good. There are those who are prideful, “snobbish,” insecure, or arrogant, for instance. Some will drop one “friend” for another to advance themselves, or the perception of themselves, within their community and Church — or distance themselves from those no longer worthy of them to their way of thinking.

Unwisely, by worldly standards, Jesus did not live by this adage. As a result, those who make such judgments condemned Him wrongly. They did so because of a thick, hard-headedness caused by blinding sin.

“The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners…(Matt. 11:19).” What they said was true to a point, Jesus did reach out to those outcast by society — tax collectors and money lenders, prostitutes, Samaritans, women, the sick, Lepers, all society would judge as unclean. And, yes he was their friend. Yet, it is the “spin” placed on His actions that makes these insinuations so egregious.

Jesus was sharing the good news of God’s love for all people by reaching out to those least in the eyes of the world, trapped in their sin and poverty of spirit — offering hope and new life — a more abundant life. Hypocritically, the “religious,” those who should have welcomed God into their midst and into the lives of those they judged as sinners, were the very people out to destroy Jesus by twisting His words and actions. They did not like the people Jesus dealt with, they didn’t want “those” people raised up, and equal with them….So they attempted to bring Jesus down. In responding to God in Christ in such a way, they heard God’s judgment upon themselves by His very own mouth.

“Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. (Matt. 21:31b)”

Let us see from the example of Jesus where our presence and friendship are needed…that we be strengthened to be the kind of disciples that are true and lasting friends to all we meet — not like Judas… Pray that He enables us to reach out to those the world considers the least, without fear of the judgment of the socially insecure or cruel, those who hate for hate’s sake… May Jesus open us to those whose need we have been blinded to by our own self-absorption and insecurity — those we may have been embarrassed to be seen with…Maybe even those standing nearest us, our family members, and neighbors, perhaps needing no more than our presence and love…May people see Jesus in us, as we strive to find Him in others…

The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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