By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
According to a recent survey, the average Facebook user has 338 friends. But Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, doubts if these are indeed “friends.” For him, an average person can have at most 150 friends with whom he can maintain a stable relationship. He adds, however, that in reality we’re only able to maintain a mere five real friendships at a time.
Real friends are an endangered species because we are more intent in “building networks,” “developing relationships” or “making connections” that we look at friendship as a project or worse, a transaction. We want to make sure that we get some kind of benefit or advantage from the people who we are connecting with. We enter into friendships hoping to get a good bargain, as when we purchase commodities online. No wonder, we are unable to understand friendship within a context that is neither romantic, sexual, or commercial.
In the past, I thought that real friends are those who will drop what they’re doing and come to give help, when I need it. But I realized that I am treating friends in terms of their usefulness, or worse, as investments, which is contrary to the whole idea of friendship. Genuine friendships are relationships without an agenda.
A beautiful description of real friendship, though quite idealistic, is one written by Ronald Sharp who teaches a course on the literature of friendship in a university: “Friendship is not about what someone can do for you, it’s who and what the two of you become in each other’s presence.”
Reciprocity is an essential element of real friendship. You love your friends and they love you in return. This is a very important gauge of friendship because in a 2016 study, only 34 to 53 percent of perceived friendships are actually mutual. People are so eager to maximize efficiency in their relationships that they have lost touch with what it is to be a friend.
True friendship is reciprocal. There is no hierarchy; there is an equality to it. Jesus enacted that equality when He washed His disciples’ feet. He said: “No longer are you my servant, but I call you friends” (John 15:15). Jesus calls His followers friends, and in in the spirit of reciprocity, we are his friends and He is ours. That means that just as He is willing to die for us, so we too must be willing to die for Him.
But perhaps dying for Jesus may not be the ultimate proof of our friendship with God. If we read further: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Our mutual friendship with Jesus means that rather than give up our life for Jesus, we are to bear fruit. In John’s gospel, “to bear fruit” really means to do works of love. This means that we can replicate and embody over and over again, the love that enabled Jesus to lay down his life for us.
To be Christian is to enact His love in our own lives. It is by doing this that I become truly a friend of Jesus and Jesus becomes my real friend. To quote again Ronald Sharp’s words: “Friendship is not about what someone can do for you, it’s who and what the two of you become in each other’s presence.”