“While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him” (Mt. 26:47-50).
“Friend, do what you came to do.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, surrounded by a crowd with swords and clubs, greeted with such insolence by His betrayer, Jesus addresses Judas, as “friend.” This isn’t the more common word for “friend” in the New Testament. The more common word is “philos,” from the word philia, which means love or affection. But this word, while less common in the New Testament, is from a root that refers to someone of your own clan or family. It means companion, friend, cousin, comrade, mate. This word is used only three times like this in the New Testament, and all three times it’s in Matthew’s gospel. And as we look at each passage, a clear and striking pattern emerges.
The word is used in Matthew 20 at the end of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Remember the master of the vineyard hires workers for a denarius for working in the vineyard at the beginning of the day, and then he hires others in the middle of the day, and then again, toward the end of the day, all for the same pay. And then, beginning with those he hired last, he pays them all what he promised them. But by the time he gets to the workers he hired at the beginning of the day, paying them the exact same amount as those he hired at the end of the day, those first workers begin to grumble against him. And Jesus says that the master of the vineyard “replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?’… Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own money? Is your eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and first last: for many are called but few chosen” (Mt. 20:13-16).
Again, in Matthew 22, Jesus puts this word “friend” in the mouth a king in the parable of the wedding feast for the marriage of his son. Having sent out invitations, none of the original guests would come, some of the guests even mistreating the king’s servants who invited them. So the king sent out his servants instructing them to invite anyone they could find from the highways and byways, both good and bad. But when the king came into the feast, now full of guests, he saw a man without a wedding garment, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And the guest was speechless. Then the king said to his servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22:12-14).
Notice the parallels and pattern that emerges: in both stories, the ones addressed as “friend” have been treated very well, even generously, but they are not responding to the generosity and kindness well. In the first parable, the worker is being greedy and envious, and in the second parable, the wedding guest has come without a wedding garment, apparently showing great disrespect for the occasion, not really there for the festivity. Perhaps he only came for the free food, or perhaps as one of the original guests, greedy and envious that others were invited to take his place – which would make both of the so-called ‘friends’ in the parables greedy and envious. In both stories, the master or king intend real blessing to the one they address as ‘friend,’ doing them real good as friends, but the one they are addressing is rejecting that blessing, demanding something else instead. In both stories Jesus summarizes the point as many are called, but few are chosen. The ones that come first often end up on the outside, and those on the outside at first often end up on the inside.
The story of the betrayal of Jesus continues the same pattern: Judas has just betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. And we know from elsewhere that Judas was a greedy and envious man. He objected to the extravagant generosity of the woman who anointed Jesus with costly oil, complaining that the perfume might have been sold to help the poor, but it later came out that Judas was not really so concerned about the poor as he was about skimming off the top of the poor fund that he was in charge of. Judas was a greedy and envious man. Judas was also in the inner circle of the apostles, one of the first disciples, with closest access to Jesus, and yet he betrayed Jesus and ended up on the outside, in the outer darkness, where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Greed and envy are closely related sins. Pilate knew it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered Jesus to him (Mt. 27:18). Greed and envy are sins of betrayal. Jesus calls it having an evil eye or an eye full of darkness. Your eyes are so set on something, often something that someone else has, that it distorts your vision. Whether it is a possession, a house, a car, a job, a level of affluence, or a position of authority or respect or fame or influence or followers, or whether it is certain relationships: a husband, a wife, a kind of family, marriage, children, friendships.
Ironically, you can lie to yourself saying that you only want these things because they are good things. God says they are good gifts; why shouldn’t I want them? Just like Judas said that his desire was for the care of the poor. But greed and envy don’t really merely want good gifts, they idolize these good gifts, obsess over them, and calculate exactly how much those around you are getting and by implication what you are not getting. And greed and envy quietly (or not so quietly) resent and hate how God is dealing out His gifts. But notice the end of that road: you end up at a lavish wedding celebration refusing to celebrate. You’re so wound tight about what you don’t have, you end up pushing away the gifts He’s actually giving you. You become like the dwarves in The Last Battle who can’t see the New Narnia. You’re there, but all you can see is an old barn full of hay. Greed and envy betray you, and in the process of betraying you, they drive you to betray those around you, like Judas.
Yet the point remains that in every one of these stories, Jesus calls the one betraying Him, resenting Him, hating Him and His kindness, “Friend.” And the point I want to make is that the offer is true, the offer of friendship is genuine, and Jesus says exactly how far He’s willing to take this generous offer: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Elsewhere, Romans says what this entailed, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
While it is true that some whom Christ calls “friend” reject the offer, and end up on the outside, in the outer darkness, the fact remains that all who come to Christ were once His sworn enemies and traitors. The only people Christ died for were sinners, traitors, insolent, ungodly, greedy, and envious. And so His death is a true offer of friendship: He laid His life down for His friends, and His friends were His enemies: the ungodly, sinners of every sort, greedy and envious, and He died because He loved them. He died to make them His friends. And when He makes you His friend like that, how can you not forgive one another? How can you not love your enemies and do good to those who have betrayed you?
And so the offer is still there. The offer is here, right now, for you and for the world. Whatever your circumstances, whatever you have complained about, whatever you have pushed away, whatever you have resented bitterly in your heart or in your words, Jesus still says to you, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.” All that Jesus does is good and kind and generous. He is the Son of the Father, in whom there is no shadow of turning, from whom comes every good and perfect gift. He is the Father of all the prodigals and of all the self-righteous older brothers. He has thrown a great party, an extravagant feast, and you are invited. So lay down your grievances. Lay down all your claims, all your excuses, all your calculating. Lay down your bad attitude, your bitterness, your resentment. Lay down your envy and your greed. Christ was crucified for sinners. Jesus is the friend for sinners. So come to the Feast. But when you come into the feast, you must have a wedding garment, and the wedding garment He requires is the garment of praise. So ask Jesus to peel off your rags of resentment and envy. Ask Him to take them away. And ask Him to give you His royal robes of righteousness. He loves to give this gift. And He promises to give this gift to everyone who comes and asks. He will not turn you away, because He calls you His friend.
So come and welcome to Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.