But Is Much Much More
There are two types of healthy friendships: Equal and unequal. Equal we understand and easily accept. It’s what we expect.
Unequal we don’t get so much. We consider it unacceptable when one person does most of the giving and the other does most of the taking.
That’s how we usually see it but is that always true? Can a friendship be good when equality is distorted? I think it can. In fact, the greatest friendships are unequal. Let me explain.
Equal friends are peers. Their lives run in parallel. They aren’t exactly the same but they have equal levels of development. Generally:
- They share similar levels of health, education and opportunities for employment. Neither is handicapped or maybe both are handicapped but they are equal.
- They speak the same language and maintain the same standard of living.
- They share common opportunities for recreation, lifestyle habits and so on.
- They may not make the same choices but they share common options.
- They may not have the same job position but they work in the same strata of society.
It isn’t uncommon for people on an equal footing to meet and become connected at the friendship level. It isn’t forced. Neither is uncomfortable with the other. There is no condescension either way.
They are able to give as much as they receive.
But there is a second angle on friendship that tells a different story.
This kind of friendship is marked by either division or disparity, or sometimes both. If it’s division, the friends represent differing sides. If it’s disparity, the friends are on different social levels, more vertical than horizontal. One looking down, the other looking up.
Unequal friendships require a great effort, at least on the part of one, for the connection to be made. One side is sacrificing the other benefits.
This doesn’t seem fair and according to Jesus it isn’t, but it is not what you think. The giver, He said, is much more blessed than the receiver.
When beliefs are involved compromise is assumed but, again, not so. Giving a person what they need on a personal level doesn’t require alignment of beliefs. You’ll see just now.
Unequal Friendships Go Beyond Charity
I’m not talking about charity.
Yes, charity involves the same vertical challenge but charity doesn’t require friendship. No emotional connection is required.
Friendships occur over time. Charity begins and ends when you drop a coin in the can. I’m not saying charity is bad. It’s good. I recommend it but it doesn’t require friendship.
There is an element of charity to an unequal friendship but charity and friendship are two very different things. One is personal, the other is not.
Tell me. When you drop change in a beggars tin, do you stand there for 5 or 10 minutes shooting the breeze.
Hello, my name is, what’s yours? So, what’s happening in your life? Are you having a good day? How are the wife and kids? Any good prospects for jobs?
Obviously not. Why? Because a conversation like that is a little too personal to be appropriate. We drop our money and leave. The beggar probably appreciates it when we do.
I can give to the humane society or anti-cruelty league without touching or seeing the animals that are helped by my donation. No connection required.
You might become personally connected to the person or people to whom you show charity but then it is more than charity. It’s a friendship.
Unequal Friendships Cross Social Boundaries
An unequal friendship goes deeper than charity. In fact, we might call these unequal friendships crossovers.
- It’s one person leaving the social strata on which they live to connect with a person living on a different level.
- It’s a high end person connecting with one living on a lower level.
- It’s an educated person learning how to communicate respectfully with one that hasn’t had the privilege of education.
Unequals understand that character is neither stimulated by privilege nor diminished by disadvantage.
Unequal Friendships Cross Health Boundaries
In this friendship, the perfectly healthy person reaches out to the desperately ill.
And, no, I’m not talking about doctors and other medical staff. I’m talking about hospice types. The ones that show up regularly without pay to relieve suffering.
They’ve crossed the barrier because they see people, not infections.
I have to be honest. I’m not that way inclined and the ability to do this is rare, especially when it comes to a hospice. Making donations to the hospice, anyone can do. Not everyone can happily work as a volunteer in one.
The person capable of this is a special type of friend.
Unequals Cross Religious, Political And Moral Barriers
Mother Teresa is a good example.
She was a friend to desperate people many of whom probably had questionable lifestyles and likely came from different religions.
They weren’t just poor. They didn’t just smell badly. Hygiene wasn’t the only issue.
These needy people may have been prostitutes, drug addicts, liars and thieves but she was their friend anyway. She may have been the only Jesus they ever saw.
She mastered the art of becoming their friend without being their partner in crime or confederate in contraband or ally to illegal activities.
Their morals may have offended her religious principles but helping them agreed with her practical theology. There was no contradiction. It wasn’t a compromise.
She also reached across less offensive barriers that naturally separate people.
Not just the barrier of wrongdoing or healthy vs sick, but political barriers too, like ANC vs DA or Republican vs Democrat.
She probably dealt with a few socially challenged people also. You know, the noisy, obnoxious, disagreeable types.
Her example shows that you can be a friend without abetting wrongdoing or changing your political persuasion. That people are more important than issues.
In her acceptance speech for the Pulitzer Prize she decried abortion, and divorce and remarriage. But never once did she qualify the people she helped.
Mother Theresa epitomizes the best of what it means to be an unequal friend.
I’m not suggesting you should emulate Mother Theresa. If we all did what she did, she wouldn’t be extraordinary.
But there is a place in the middle. A place where we can cross the barrier without becoming absorbed by the other side.
Even a bad guy needs a Mother Theresa in his life and they have one in our next example.
Church Is One Place Divergent Levels Of Society Can Meet
Vertically challenged friendships are important for Christians because the church is supposed to be a socially unrestricted zone. It is one place in society divergent levels can comfortably meet.
You can’t force the ultra wealthy to share a pew with the desperately poor but it can happen. It shouldn’t be discouraged.
The church has the head to relate to the high end and the heart to relate to the low end. It connects the two, or at least it should. Bridging the gap is in the theological DNA.
Jesus Was An Unequal Friend To Everyone
Very few will be an unequal like Mother Teresa, and I’m not trying to convince you to try, but no one will match Jesus. He was the greatest unequal of all. Paul said:
He (Jesus) had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. MSG
And while He was here, Jesus:
- Ministered to political enemies.
- Touched the diseased – He didn’t just heal them from a distance.
- Dined with social outcasts.
- Forgave adulterers.
- Related to desperate people.
- Tolerated belligerence without responding personally.
- Patiently instructed the misinformed.
Should we be like Jesus? I guess so. Who would say we shouldn’t aim for that. But truth be told, we aren’t cut out for friendship on a par with Jesus. As special as Mother Teresa was, even she struggled to do the things she did.
But my primary point is not Be A Friend. My primary point is you already have a friend. You will never be too desperate for Jesus. The cry of a hurting soul cannot be resisted by Him.
When you need a friend, He’ll be there. Jesus doesn’t need to agree with you to love you.