Unlikely Hero - Week Two: True Friendship

This week I am continuing our sermon series on the life of David with the story of David and Jonathan---perhaps one of the most dramatic and enduring stories of true friendship in the Bible. And it's a story that's made even more compelling by the fact that they were such unlikely friends.

I looked up "unlikely friendships" on the interwebs and this is one of the first images that came up:

I'm pretty sure this is breaking a whole bunch of rules.  You've got a pit bull, a cat and a bunch of ducklings all hanging out together.
I think that it's sort of an understatement to describe these friendships as "unlikely."
But it undoubtedly would be an overstatement to call the friendship of a pit bull, cat and baby ducks as "enduring."  Something tells me that if  either the dog or the cat missed a couple of meals, this photo wouldn't be so darned cute.  But that's just me.

Who is your "best friend?"  And what makes them "best?"  Is it their ability to listen?  Their loyalty to you when the chips were down?  Maybe it was the way that they spoke truth to you when you needed it.  Or it could be just as simple as they have been by your side for years when lots of other friends faded away.

I know this sounds like a cliche, but I married my best friend.  There is no person in the world that I would rather be with than my wife.  She knows me better than anyone else in the world, and loves me anyway.  And she is not afraid to tell me the truth about myself.  She's also loyal to a fault.  If you don't believe me, just do something mean to me and see what happens.  You don't want to go there, pal.

The Tale of David and Jonathan is a story of "best" friends, but it's more deeply the story of "unlikely" friends, one of whom had way too much to lose by being friends with the other.

Which is why I want to tell this story from the perspective of Jonathan, who just happened to be the son of Saul, the king of Israel, which made him the heir to the throne.  It also made him a direct rival of David, who was anointed by Samuel to be king after Saul, which if you are keeping score would leave Jonathan out in the cold, so to speak.

After the great victory that the Hebrew army had over the Philistines when David defeated the giant Goliath, there was a parade to welcome home the conquering heroes.  As Saul enters the town he hears people singing songs with choruses like this:  "Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed tens of thousands."  Now, Saul could have easily overlooked this as just the hero worship of a few young women, and used one of my favorite lines from Monty Python's the Holy Grail:  "Let's not quibble over 'oo killed 'oo..."  Instead, he grows jealous, an emotion that had to be compounded by the way his oldest son Jonathan acted toward David.

In 1 Samuel 18 Jonathan gives David a royal gift:  his royal robe, tunic, sword, bow and belt---all of which symbolized his own right to the throne.  It's unclear whether Jonathan was aware of what had happened to David when Samuel anointed him, but he clearly feels as though there is something special about his friend, a fact that is drawn out later in the story.  When Saul hears people chanting songs about David's prowess over his own, he immediately orders Jonathan to kill him.  That had to test their friendship a tad, don't you think?

Instead, Jonathan warns David of Saul's intentions and then actually talks Saul into sparing his life.  The Scripture says that he "spoke well" of David to his father.  For a time things seem to go pretty well, but Saul's paranoia and his jealousy soon overcome him and he sets out to assassinate David once more.  Jonathan loves David as if he loves his own soul, but he is also loyal to his father, and desperate to try to make peace between David and Saul.  David finally gives Jonathan a choice---to believe what he has been telling him about Saul's intentions to kill him, or not.  In an incredible moment, Jonathan says the following to his friend:
12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.  (1 Samuel 20:12-17)
In making this covenant with David, Jonathan completely aligns himself with his friend---even at the expense of his relationship and standing with his father.  The covenant is immediately put to the test when David is conspicuously absent from the royal table at one of the religious feast days Saul is celebrating.  When Jonathan tries to dissuade his father from carrying out his murderous threats against David, Saul lashes into him:
30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!” (1 Samuel 20:30-31)
Enraged and heartbroken, Jonathan leaves the table and goes outside the city where he signals David that Saul is indeed coming for him, and that David must flee.  They embrace, kiss one another in that strange sort of Near Eastern way that dudes smack one another on the cheek while hugging, and then they reaffirm their friendship and the covenant between them.

Later, when Jonathan is killed in battle along with is brothers David declares that his love for his friend was more than the love of women, which sounds kind of odd to our ears, but in the ancient Near East was a way of stating how deep and abiding their friendship was.

I was reading about this story in a Jewish commentary this week and I read there that Jonathan embodies the Great Commandment given to God's people in Leviticus, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."  He is the kind of friend who literally give the shirt off his back, and along with it his inheritance.  His friendship with David is defined by sacrifice, risk and selflessness.  It's a beautiful thing.

But what does this teach us?  What can we learn from this story?  Or, better yet, what other discussion of friendship and love does this story remind us of?

I think that this story is a wonderful illustration of the Great Story of God's love.  It's a story that I believe culminates with Jesus, who took the idea of true friendship to a whole new level.

In John 15:9-17, Jesus defines true friendship to his disciples:
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
How does that feel to know that Jesus thinks of you as his friend?  And not just any kind of friend, but sort of a best friend---because he's willing to do whatever it takes to rescue you, to show you what it means to have the greatest kind of love that would result in his laying his life down for yours.

Here's what I think:  True Friendship Is Costly, Risky, Honest and Eternal

Let's see how the story of David and Jonathan help to teach us this great and wonderful truth that is such a part of God's Story.

True Friendship is Costly...  Jonathan essentially gave up his status, didn't he?  He symbolically handed over all of the trappings of his royal right, his claim to the throne and his very future.  That's pretty costly, isn't it?

True Friendship is Risky... Jonathan found himself at odds with his father as a result of his friendship with David.  He also nearly lost his life at the feast when Saul hurled a spear at him for merely suggesting that he leave David alone.

True Friendship is Honest... Jonathan could have turned David in, betrayed him, and secured his own position with his father.  He would have had a great reward in earthly terms, but instead he remained loyal and trustworthy to David to the end.

True Friendship is Eternal... The friendship that Jonathan had toward David had eternal repercussions that were far reaching beyond their own moment.  God had big plans for David, but before those plans would be fulfilled, God used their friendship to save David's life, and secure his legitimacy as king.

And here's something else that we learn from this story...

Love and loyalty are often experienced in the midst of conflicting values where we are forced to make a choice.  Have you ever had a moment when you were forced to choose friendship over affirmation?  When you had to choose loyalty over the praise of others?  When you had to give up something you desired in favor of someone that mattered?

Listen, I am not talking about unhealthy relationships here.  If you have a friend who demands you give up your character, dignity, integrity and values---they are no friend at all.   What I am talking about is the friend who makes you better because of their friendship---the person who sees you for who you are and loves you in spite of it.  That person you know you could call at 4 AM on a Tuesday and they would gladly take your call, or get out of their p.j's and come over.

It's sad how our social context has become so obsessed with cheap relationships.  We create online personas where we can project to the world the people that we would like to be, and then we call the people who respond to this our "friends."  It's actually become a verb---to "friend" someone on Facebook, I mean.  So often our culture teaches us to see friendships in relation to our own needs, and to choose friendships based on our own comfort.

So, getting back to the example of Jesus---What would Jesus do when it came to friendship?  We can gather a lot by the company he kept.  His "friends" were a motley crew, weren't they?  Nothing but fishermen, revolutionaries, a tax collector and a cheat.  Let's be honest... Even today Jesus "friends" are a pretty sorry bunch who are hard to love and who constantly break his heart.

But Jesus laid down his life for his friends.... laid down his life for them.... us.

A few years ago, our entire church was challenged to read a groundbreaking book entitled, Same Kind of Different As Me."  This was the story of unlikely friends, Ron Hall, a white, successful, well-travelled, self-assured art dealer and Denver Moore, a black, homeless, ex-con with a surly personality.  The two met when Hall's wife coerced him into volunteering at the homeless shelter where she served.  Here's a short video that describes what happened...

Literally millions of people have read Same Kind of Different As Me, and it's impact continues to be felt.  The unlikely friendship between this affluent white man, and homeless black man was costly and risky to them both.  Their honesty and loyalty to one another was tested by their pasts, the divisions of our society and crises of faith.  But in the end, their friendship has had an eternal impact for the kingdom of God in all kinds of spaces and places.

Not the least of which is my own church, which I am convinced was transformed in part because of our reading this book together.

All we have to do is look around us and we can see the great need that our society has for unlikely friendships begun by kingdom-minded people.  Our country seem to be divided... some might say hopelessly so.  We are divided by religious and political beliefs... We are divided by race... We are divided by class... We are divided by values...

And our divisions are compounded by the fact that we lack the conviction to follow Jesus' example when it comes to friendship.

When we always  choose friendship with those who are not like ourselves, we limit the future that is open to our communities.
When we pick friendships that are easy, we limit our ability to make an eternal impact in a world that seems so full of division.

So what will you do?  What will you do to be a true friend?  There's an old saying that in order to have friends, you have to be one.  I would tweak that saying a tad... I would say that In order to have true friends, you need to be one.  And as we learned from David, Jonathan, and most importantly from Christ himself...

True Friendship is Costly, Risky, Honest & Eternal.  
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