From the friendship of Jesus with Abraham to Jesus who welcomes us calling us friends


This famous biblical story tells us that being friends is definitely not a diminution or a subtraction from the relationship of faith, because it calls for condescension, complicity and waiting when, for instance, a friend is in trouble. It is not by chance, long after the story of Abraham in Genesis, one of the most beautiful expressions we find in Scripture regarding the relationship between God's messenger, Jesus, and who followed him was: "I called you friends".

— Biblical pages—


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It seems that the term friend cannot exist without its specific qualification. We have different types declined, in the various arts, which from time to time offer the image of a fragile friend, rediscovered or ingenious. We could talk about it endlessly. A friend can be true or false, always be there or disappear, you can trust him or her unconditionally or in the worst case scenario be betrayed by them.

The Bible which is literature formed over a very long period, as well as talking about the main protagonist, who is God, presents a diverse set of human situations. Not by chance the poet Byron he called it "the great code of art", expression later taken up by the critic N. Frye who made a book of it[1]. In this roundup of disparate humanity, the interest in friends could not be missing. This is how the code of the Bible was able to arouse symbols that have remained in everyone's imagination (Frye called them imagery), even of non-students of the biblical book.

The character of Judas is famous (c)he embodies the betrayed friendship: «Amico, that's why you're here" (Mt 26,50), these are the words that Jesus addresses to the traitor after receiving his kiss. Remaining with the Gospels, one cannot forget Jesus' friendship for the family of Bethany: March, Maria and Lazzaro. When he dies Jesus will say: «Lazarus, our friend, he fell asleep; but I'm going to wake him up" (GV 11,11). As well as the reputation of a friend of tax collectors and sinners which led Jesus to be disliked by the authorities.

There are many biblical expressions referring to friendship, especially in the wisdom books. Here are two mentions among many:

“A faithful friend is medicine that gives life:
those who fear the Lord will find him." (Sir 6, 16).

“A faithful friend is a safe haven:
who finds it, find a treasure" (Sir 6,14).

A saying that has become famous the one that reads «whoever finds a friend finds a treasure». But the first biblical character to be referred to as a friend, none other than God, it was Abraham. The prophet Isaiah called him that: "But you, Israel, my servant, you Jacob, I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, my friend" (Is 41,8). The book of Daniel echoes this: «Do not withdraw your mercy from us, for Abraham's sake, your friend, of Isaac, your servant, of Israel, your saint" (3,35) and the second book of Chronicles: “You didn't drive away, our God, the inhabitants of this land in front of your people Israel and you have not given it forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham?» (20,7). Until the second testament where we find in the letter of James: «And the Scripture was fulfilled which says: Abramo believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called a friend of God" (2,23).

And if the Author of the letter of James he insisted on Abraham's actions as qualifying his faith, on the other Paul of Tarsus reversed the medal, in Romans, putting Abraham's faith before his works and by this and by this alone was he justified.

Here we do not want to address the arduous and complex subject of justification and grace pertaining to theology. But we simply want to decline how the biblical story speaks to us of the relationship between God and Abraham. What kind of friendship it was? Abraham deserved this particular relationship? He always corresponded to you? It seems an interesting topic given that it has become the vestment of the gift of divine life to the man of faith and of the grace that saves. Without neglecting the fact that Abraham is considered the father of the three great monotheistic religions, even if some find it difficult to define Christianity as a monotheism.

Because the Bible prefers to narrate than to set forth theories, we will try to trace the stories of Abraham's events to understand this friendship relationship and to understand in the end that Abraham was not so distant from us, from our expectations and emotions, from our points of view which appear unshakeable and which are put to the test by divine requests and promises which are not immediately revealed.

There is an episode in the story of Abraham narrated in the book of Genesis (18, 25-32) which seems to highlight more than others, more than the same call, the special friendship relationship between him and God, and it is the story of the negotiation about the destruction of the city of Sodom. To God who had already decided the fate of the city, Abraham points out the possible presence of righteous people in it. And from ten to ten to go down he manages to snatch a piece of God's benevolence. This episode highlights a characteristic of the patriarch that recurs several times in the stories, or his indisputable ability to negotiate. It's a well, of territorial division, of earth for the grave of his wife Sara, of how to find a wife for Isaac his son or of God himself, as in the above case, Abraham is unbeatable.

A little less, a lot less, when it comes to having faith in the divine words and this seems incredible for all that is normally thought of him. But God doesn't seem to care. Just like true friends do.

Even rabbinic exegesis he looked favorably upon the Abrahamic ability to deal, when it comes to saving people. The teachers of the Torah, indeed, they have not accorded equal benevolence to another famous patriarch, Noah, who received the command to build an ark because of the impending flood. These, unlike Abraham, he did nothing to thwart the destructive purpose.[2] Noah was an obedient man who asked no questions, "walked with God" (Gen 6,9) but he did not establish any relationship with him, perhaps because of the end of everything that was to come. With Abraham who "walked ahead of God" (Gen 17, 1) it was required, instead an active relationship, patient and friendly.

And patience with Abraham must have a lot. A modern reader of the biblical text would be surprised to find some embarrassing features in the life of the patriarch. These act as a counterbalance to the obvious mediation skills already mentioned, to his being an expert in weapons and guerrilla warfare (Gen 14, 14-16), of men and alliances (Gen 17, 17-24) and capable entrepreneur of the ancient world (Gen 24, 34-35).

Yet Abraham's first ever words in the Bible, immediately after God's call, they speak a lie, letting Sarah pass, in the eyes of the Egyptian pharaoh, like a sister instead of a wife[3]. An episode that will be repeated later with another king (cap. 20). Despite the repeated divine promise that he will surely have offspring, will agree, further on, about Sarah's intention to have a child with the slave Hagar; but when the two women come into conflict he will drive her out into the desert, reluctantly, with only a loaf of bread and a skin of water. When with his son Isaac will go up to Mount Moriah, place of his sacrifice, he will load the wood on his son's shoulders. Which father would have done this knowing what fate he was going to meet?

But Abraham, rightly, he is remembered above all for his faith: “He believed the Lord, who credited it to him as justice" (Gen 15, 6). But this faith evidently had to grow and mature, passing through important evidence, in addition to the fact that it was a word and a divine promise that aroused it, remembered over and over again.

In the Book of Genesis (cf.. 12) God first spoke to Abraham. The expression used in Hebrew, psychoanalysts liked it a lot: Go (play play) “Go for you” or “Go towards you”[4]. A new word, personal, addressed to Abraham son of Terak, invited him to leave his father and go to a land to become a blessed nation. Set off, but as often happens, the enthusiasm was lost along the way. The journey was tiring, in stages, hostile people e, above all, what progeny could he have had if a son did not come? That is how, you want for the difficulties, you want for the advancing age, he satisfied. After all, the slave's son, Ishmael, it was already something. So at one point Abraham blurted out before God: «If at least Ishmael could live in front of you!» (Gen 17, 18). Until the umpteenth promise of a child of theirs, Abraham and Sarah burst out laughing. Abraham even doubled over with laughter (Gen 17, 17).

But here's the twist. Sarah did indeed bear a son to Abraham: Isaac, the promised. But which friend gives you such a gift: Isaac, from Hebrew Isaac literally “the laughing son, which elicits laughter, that you can make fun of and ridicule[5]? Which for this very reason became the cause of the removal of the other son, Ishmael, which had no flaws?

Abraham was speechless at the birth of his son, since the text contains only the words of Sarah, who spoke of laughter and laughter. Who is this son that his friend God has sent?? We must accept this gift? Because Isaac, among all the biblical patriarchs and Sui generis. He never had the role of the protagonist and immediately appeared devoid of his own personality. He couldn't even find his wife by himself and this one, Rebecca, when she finally saw him up close, fell off the camel. Not surprisingly, several commentators, both Jews and Christians, they pointed out that Isaac may not have been a perfect son, disabled, autistic son of an aging father[6]. Let's imagine Abraham's feelings if this was to be the fulfillment of the promise. How to accept all this?

It is at this point that the biblical narrative presents us with one of the most fascinating and dramatic episodes of all his literature. The story of the sacrifice or rather of the Akda (aqedàh, about the connection) of Isaac in chapter 22. An episode that has inspired artists and commentators from antiquity to the present day. It is not possible to account for it here, but we can propose an interpretation that is well linked with what has been said so far about the relationship between God and Abraham.

First of all it was a new beginning. Let's go back to the verse 2 the same "play play” (goes for you, towards you) the chapter 12. Again a going towards oneself. But this time the promise came true, unexpectedly. Where should Abraham go? The ascent to Mount Morìa, with only dialogue about a ram to find, it's heartbreaking. Despite the outcome in the end happy, the episode will retain its tragedy: in the silence that falls during the return home of the two, in the lack of exultation or joy, in the subsequent physical separation between the father and the son and in the death of Sara that a Midrash (midrash)[7] it follows from the fact that she came to know what was about to happen on the mountain.

So what had happened? That Abraham was called to accept God's promise, in the person of Isaac, imperfect son. Because of this, her faith was tested and she was strengthened. The friend had finally understood what had been asked of him from the beginning, even if unexpected and far from its prerogatives and psychological characteristics. But Abraham went towards him, to open up to a new self and to the you of the son finally dissolved and left free to go.

Someone, many centuries later he would say: "God chooses what is weak in the world" (1Color 1,27). This is probably what Abraham's faith had to dramatically understand: welcome the promise in the fragile person of Isaac. Only when he understands will he choose for Isaac a woman with whom to console himself for the death of his mother, he will bestow on him all his good, he will protect him from possible competitors and die "satiated with days" buried by his sons Isaac and Ishmael finally reunited (Gen 25,9).

The story of Abraham and God can be read in many ways. The Bible beyond the implications that refer to faith and that passing through St. Paul and James mentioned above have arrived up to today, the Law as a story of friendship. With all its tones and variations, since Abraham remains a man with his personality made up of limits and greatness. This famous biblical story tells us that being friends is definitely not a diminution or a subtraction from the relationship of faith, because it calls for condescension, complicity and waiting when, for instance, a friend is in trouble. It is not by chance, long after the story of Abraham in Genesis, one of the most beautiful expressions we find in Scripture regarding the relationship between God's messenger, Jesus, and who followed him was: "I called you friends" (GV 15, 15).

from the Hermitage, 17 June 2023



[1] N. Frye, Great code, Bible and literature, 1981 (Trad.. it.: Einaudi, 1986)

[2] The parallel between the flood and the destruction of Sodom has been grasped by many. This is total destruction. Only one family is saved in both cases. The presence of incestuous relationships in the two stories, from which non-Jewish tribes arose (Canaanites from Cam, son of Noah and Moabites and Ammonites from the daughters of Lot).

[3] Even if it's true, for they were sons of the same father, but from different mothers.

[4] Likewise Noah is commanded to make an ark of cypress “for you” (Gen 6, 14)

[5] the root of the name (zade/chet/qof) with these senses, compare 179 times in the Bible mentioned 112 times referred to Isaac in Genesis

[6] Marmorini G., Isaac, the imperfect son, claudian 2018; Baharier H., Genesis explained by my daughter, Milan 2015

[7] Nd.R. Midrash, from Hebrew Midrash, term that indicates a method of biblical exegesis of the Jewish tradition



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