shrek and donkeyThose of you familiar with the film Shrek may remember an exchange between Donkey and Shrek. There has been a bust up and Shrek has gone off in a huff back to his own swamp, where Donkey eventually finds him. After another rather ill-tempered exchange, Donkey eventually says to his friend: “You are mean to me, you insult me and you don’t appreciate anything that I do.” “Oh, yeah. Well, if I’ve treated you so bad, how come you came back?” “Because that’s what friends do! They forgive each other.” And Donkey is right. Friends do, indeed, forgive each other. But they also do many other things, too.

When you think about your friends and what makes a good friend, what comes to mind? Maybe someone who makes you laugh? Someone you can do things with? Someone who will listen to you? Someone who helps you out? Someone you can be yourself with without having to pretend? Someone who sticks by you? They are all attributes of a good friend – those things we value in those who are good friends to us; those things we aspire to as we seek to be good friends to others. But who do we offer that hand of friendship to?

The answer the gospels give, of course, is everyone. Just as Jesus commands us to love our neighbour, and when asked to tease that out indicates that we are to consider everyone as our neighbour, so that hand of friendship should be offered to all, whoever they might be and regardless of whether it is reciprocated or not.

Those of you on Facebook will know that Facebook encourages you to collect friends. Requests appear in your inbox saying “Will you be my friend?”, often from people you barely know but who might be a friend of a friend of a friend, and it seems rude to say no. The result is that people end up with hundreds – and in some cases, thousands – of friends and then find news on their wall of people they have never met and reminders to wish happy birthday to people whose names mean nothing. That can all seem rather strange. Yet it reminds us of that gospel truth – that we are called to be friends to all, as Jesus is a friend to all. The trick – or the challenge – is to ensure those friends are more than just paper friends (or “Facebook” friends) and become people in whom we sincerely take an interest and are there to help should the need arise.

refugee buddyWe are already gearing ourselves up for a general election, a change for a debate about our country and what sort of society we are trying to create. For Christians (and others), that means creating that “friendly society” where we do indeed consider everyone as our friends: reaching out to all, offering that hand of welcome, creating the environment in which people can truly be themselves and become the people God made them to be, and sticking by those who are facing real hardships of all sorts, whatever their source. And, as the Bible reminds us, that means offering that hand of friendship – that bond of love – not only to those from our own country but those beyond our borders, too, whether they score highly on an Australian-type points system or whether they find themselves cast adrift in the Mediterranean or Andaman Seas. Meanwhile, as I write, our annual Christian Aid week has just come to an end, another reminder of the plight of some of the poorest people around the world and an encouragement for us all to show, particularly through our financial support, that those people do have friends in the world willing to offer help and support.

Of course, being a good friend takes time – time to share together, time to listen, time to respond, time to encourage, time to walk alongside. And, in a very real sense, it is impossible to be a good friend to everyone. A friend of mine, recently out of hospital and forbidden by her doctors to do anything around the house in order to give her arm time for to heal, has been wonderfully supported every day for the last fortnight by her friend across the road cooking and delivering a hot meal. But the friend couldn’t have done that for everyone in her street. We cannot, as individuals, respond to everyone’s need. It is, however, something we are able to do together – fostering that sense of friendship and embedding within our communities that willingness always to reach out to whoever needs a helping hand whenever it is required.

It has been said: “to have a friend you must be a friend.” It is good advice. The more we all seek to be good friends to others, the more we will all find people are good friends to us, too. And the world will be a better place for everyone.

God bless!

Jonathan