When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ (Mt 21:10)
“Who is this,” the amazed crowds asked as Jesus made his final trip to Jerusalem. From the very first ‘Palm Sunday,’ up until today, there are no simple answers to this simple question. This is a king with a great following, who claims his kingdom is not of this Earth. This man Jesus speaks with the authority of God but was from the backwater town of Nazareth. He inspires great devotion from his supporters who spread their jackets and palms before Him, but in a week’s time will be executed by those who fear him.
“Who is this,” the crowds asked. One of Narek’s favorite Armenian books might shed light on this question. Its title is an Armenian proverb; “Ըսէ՛ ով է ընկերդ, ըսեմ ով ես դու | Tell Me Who Your Friends Are, I’ll Tell You Who You Are.” In other words, you can tell a lot about people by the company they keep, so perhaps we can learn who Jesus is by looking to his friends.
Who are our Lord’s closest friends? They are mostly ignorant fishermen, who throughout the Gospels, don’t understand their leader, and in a few short days—to the last man—will abandon him. Either Jesus is the worst leader that ever lived, or He chooses these humble and disobedient ones to show that no one is great until God makes them great. If you have been humbled this Lenten season, by your ignorance, by your weakness, by sickness or pain, may God’s glory show greater in you for your humility. For Jesus is a friend of the humble.
Who else are Jesus’s friends? The sinners; the unfaithful and the addicted as well as the broken and the prodigals. None of the righteous want much to do with Jesus. Indeed they openly criticized him, saying why are you keeping company with sinners? Jesus response, as often, turns conventional wisdom upside down; “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mk 2:17).” If you have fallen short before God and others this Lenten season, may Jesus the physician make you whole, spiritually, mentally and physically. For Jesus is a friend of the sinner.
So, wait a minute, is the saying wrong? “Tell me who your friends are, I’ll tell you who you are” What does it say about Jesus—the one without sin, the perfectly obedient Son of God—that he is friends with the sinners, the lost and the broken? It says just about everything. We know much about Christ by the company he keeps, not because he condones our sin, but that knowing how far we fall short, he loves us until the end. Knowing Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and Thomas’ disbelief, Jesus still loves them till the end. He still shares everything, even himself, at his last supper.
Only for Jesus is the ironic saying about friendship literally true, “with friends like this who needs enemies?” Because the truth is that with the race of men, Jesus’ friends and enemies are often ones and the same. The hearts of men are fickle, and we are reminded especially so this week. For on Palm Sunday, the same crowds shouting “Blessing in the highest,” would by week’s end be shouting, “Crucify him.” And all of us know, from even the slightest bit of Lenten self-reflection, that we have a foot in each crowd. For just as soon as we worship, we profane, as soon as we love, we betray; and yet through all this, Jesus knows our struggle and remains our friend.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (Jn 15:12-16)
And so the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and the stories of betrayal and loss coming up this Holy Week-are at heart-all stories about friendship. “Tell me who your friends are, I’ll tell you who you are.” Christ’s friendship endures through all disappointments, trials, and betrayals of his friends. Our own sins and struggles, whatever they might be, are known intimately by God—and despite their great cost—he shoulders them and lifts us up as his friend. No one has had greater love than this, and no one ever will. But all of us, his followers, are to be known by showing the world the same love shown to us by our Lord and our Friend, now and always; amen.