The Secret Friends of Jesus

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The twelve were with him, and certain women who had been healed from evil spirits and sicknesses. Mary, who was called Magdalene, had seven demons depart from her. There were also Joanna the wife of Chusa–an administrator for Herod–and Susanna, and many others. These women were supporting them from their own possessions.
Luke 8: 1-3

In today’s gospel we are introduced to the women who will be the closest and most constant friends of Jesus, and perhaps the prime financial supports of Jesus and the disciples. They are with him throughout his life and at his death and, in Luke’s account, Mary and Joanna are the first to be told of the resurrection. While others, including “the twelve” have a somewhat tenuous and at times troubled relationship with Jesus, these women seem to be what Ruusbroec would call the “secret friends” of Jesus.

Friendship is a term that has multiple meanings for us. We use the term of daily acquaintances, as well as colleagues with whom we share a task. We use it for those with whom we establish a context for our social lives and those who have helped our advancement and sense of acceptability over the course of our lives. But we also use the term to describe those relationships that unalterably alter and direct our sense of “self” and our relationship to the world. Our closest friends are those in relationship to whom we learn what it means to love “with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.”

For those women we meet in today’s gospel, Jesus is clearly such a friend, and they such friends to him. In the Confessions, Augustine describes such friendship:

to discourse and jest with my friend; to indulge in courteous exchanges; to read pleasant books together; to trifle together; to be earnest together; to differ at times without ill-humor as one might do with oneself, and even through these infrequent dissensions to find zest in our more frequent agreements; sometimes teaching, sometimes being taught; longing for someone absent with impatience and welcoming the homecomer with joy. These and similar tokens of friendship, which spring spontaneously from the hearts of those who love and are loved in return–in countenance, tongue, eyes, and a thousand ingratiating gestures–were all so much fuel to melt our souls together, and out of the many made us one.

quoted in A. C. Grayling, Friendship, pp. 63-4

The “oneness” that is represented in the affection, constancy, and commitment of these special friends of Jesus goes so much deeper than the assertions and acts of “the twelve.” Ruusbroec would speak of this distinction as that between the “faithful servants” and the “secret friends” of God. The faithful servant gives him or herself in service to God, but remains looking outward — that is continues to live with a divided heart. Such a person is a “good and faithful servant” but this servant’s mind always remains “filled more with images of the works (s)he performs than with God, for whose sake (s)he does them.” In this division of mind and heart, this servant experiences “nothing of how a person possesses God through bare love in emptiness of self, above and beyond all exercises.” On the other hand, the “secret friends” of God, as Mary, Joanna, Susanna and the other women, live out in their friendship with Jesus the “one thing necessary,” which is “divine love . . . and an interior life marked by a loving adherence to God.” (The Sparkling Stone, II, B)

Today’s gospel and the friendship of the women with Jesus invite us to consider our own friendship with him. The union of the contemplative and the active live requires a cultivation of an undivided heart. It asks of us to learn to give ourselves to a continual formation and reformation in the discipline of love. It invites us to turn more inward a gaze which tends always to be “looking outward,” that our heart and Christ’s heart may little by little become more and more one.

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