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A Friend like Aristarchus: The Plague and the Promise

A Friend like Aristarchus: The Plague and the Promise

By the Rev. Tad de Bordenave
Special to Virtueonline
December 5, 2020

Yes, this article is about being friends in these pandemic days, but what I offer is more than just making the case for being a good friend. The spirit hovering over us today with its weighty and wearying uncertainty can hide the shining light of Christ's love. The honor of friendship carries energy that overrides that atmosphere and replaces it with hope. In that perspective friendship is God's instrument of his love and hope in a world that is not sure where to find these

We turn to Aristarchus and the Good Samaritan to see the makings of friendship that herald God's kingdom.

(This site links to my profile on Aristarchus and his companionship with Paul: https://stpaulsfriends.blogspot.com/2020/01/aristarchusa-true-friend-and-co-worker.html)

A review of Aristarchus as friend shows what can come with that commitment to others. He first appears in Ephesus, being dragged by the rioters to be beaten up. He was not the cause of the riot; that would have been Paul. Although he was the wrong man, he took the whipping anyhow.

Years later he sailed with Paul to Rome when Paul was possibly facing death. He took the months-long journey, separating himself from family and ministry responsibilities. The nights at sea would not have been as long for Paul, who could decompress with Aristarchus and Luke. Then with Paul in jail he remained there with him in Rome, a faithful companion as Paul was in extremis.

For Aristarchus, friendship brought with it gross misunderstanding in Ephesus, omitting excuses to avoid the long and inconvenient journey, receiving no reward for weeks or months in a stinking jail. It's just what you do.

Jesus gives a striking model of radical friendship in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Whoever that man was, he did what respectable leaders would not do. To most, the bum in the ditch was best left there. Let him stew in his own filth. He was smelly, bloody, and helpless. Who would bother? Not the clergy; not the church leaders. No, Jesus was explicit there. They passed on the other side of the road. But the Samaritan, he picked up the poor bloke, took him to a first aid station, set him up at a hostel, and promised to return the next day to cover additional expenses. That's what a friend does.

Remember, however, the question that prompted the parable: "Who is my neighbor?" The questioner did not like the answer that came through the parable. "Not the man in the ditch!" Jesus returned the question back, tweaking the original one. Jesus made a verb out of neighbor. "Who was neighbor to the man in the ditch?" Jesus leaves us with both challenges: Who do we see as neighbors? What are we willing to do for them?

Friendships take time--regularly showing up, knowing a cost will come, absorbing a rebuke now and then, and always receiving abundantly in return. Sometimes we see beauty that comes out. We become surprised by how the satisfaction obscures the costs. And most of the time we find the reward of love.

A brief glance beneath the surface of neighbors today discloses feelings of fear, loneliness, uncertainty, isolation, and a few other dismal outlooks on life, while we await a return to normalcy. For some, the world centers around them, and no one else is inside the circumference: "Helping others is not my responsibility; I'll live my life the way I want to." Many others, of course, experience the deep pain of separation from family, the sadness of grief suffered alone, the ever-present decisions of life without money.

Being a friend is demanding but specific. The call to be friends means: for those who grieve, a partner who listens and loves; for the lonely, a companion who shows up regularly; for the ill, a fellow traveler who understands and can share sadness; for the selfish, a listener who breaks down insulators; for the poor, a Good Samaritan who goes back and covers additional expenses.

These friendships bless. They break the paralyzing grip of self-centeredness. They remove whatever has blocked compassion. They restore the sacred source of hope. With the power and willingness to be instruments of God's kingdom, being friends in the midst of the plague moves us all towards the promise of God's mercy


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