Risking Friendship with Jesus
by Cara L.T. Murphy
Eight nautical miles off the west coast of Ireland, Skellig Michael rises like a lost mountain from a basement of pounding surf. Its dark mass pierces the horizon, jagged tips against mirrored blue. The tales I’d heard of the weather-torn mountain promised adventure. Gazing safely from the shoreline, I contemplated what it would be like to climb this mountain—but an ocean barrier existed between myself and Skellig. Without traversing that watery distance, I would never experience the mountain’s stories or the mountain’s power. To know it, to understand it, I needed courage—to cross by boat, wet my face in the salty wind, and climb the granite slopes.
The choice to go from story to experience marks every life.
Shortly before his death, Jesus is asked by Pilate: “Are you the ‘King of the Jews?’” (John 18:33, The Message). Jesus returns Pilate’s query with a question of his own:
“Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?” (verse 34).
In other words, does our information about Jesus come from our own experience of him, or is it based solely on the stories of others? Through his question, Jesus reminds us that it is possible to know the right things about him without experiencing him ourselves.
Jesus has come, in all his glory, in all his beauty, in greater raw power than any sea-birthed mountain, and he has invited us to know him in intimate friendship. His questions are the invitations into that friendship. By asking over 300 gospel-questions, Jesus teaches us that he craves a deeper dialogue with his friends. The God who made every mountain has opened himself to us—to be known, to be scaled, to be experienced.
Like the people of Exodus, such brilliant, holy closeness frightens us, and we elect others to bear the weight of God’s glorious friendship on our behalf. We prefer the safety of second-hand information from the shore.
Jesus, however, challenges the hear-say religion that permeates across generations. “I’m no longer calling you servants,” he said. “No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father” (John 15:15, The Message). But the reality is that we prefer the role of servant, because it does not require the vulnerability of friendship. Service has its place, but God desires an intimacy beyond the master-servant dynamic. Early Irish Christians spoke of this kind of friend as an anam cara, or ‘soul friend.’ Anam cara friendships are rare, and they require risking closeness in order to experience their depth.
No one else can experience Jesus for us. Through his mediation, the divine Anam Cara has bridged the impassable distance between shore and mountain. As he asked Pilate, so he asks us:
Have you really experienced Me, or have you just heard the stories?
Jesus’ questions come from his heart—an invitation of friendship and intimacy. Through him, we no longer need stare from a distance at something we can never approach. The distance to this mountain of Love has already been crossed by Jesus.
Each of us is invited to take courage, receive his questions, and climb for ourselves.
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