How can you tell whether a friend is really a friend or just someone who pretends to be a friend for personal advantage? Short answer: sometimes you can’t.
We do know friendships of convenience happen. In one of his psalms (Psalm 41) David laments that “even my close friend whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” While John’s gospel takes this as a prophecy of Judas Iscariot ,David was referring more immediately to one of his trusted advisors, a man named Ahithophel.
Like Judas, Ahithophel betrayed his friend. Here is the context of the betrayal and a lesson to go with it.
King David’s son Absalom foments a coup against his father. By all appearances the rebellion is about to succeed. In fear for his life David flees the capital. Absalom moves into the palace and even co-opts David’s harem. Ahithophel, one of David’s trusted advisors, reads the political map and does the expedient thing: he joins Absalom in the rebellion, abandoning his long-time friend David.
Motives are hard to accurately impute, but the descriptions “hangers-on” and “opportunist” might fit this situation. “I will be your friend as long as there is potentially something in it for me.” That succinctly defines political alliances and realities, and it seems like an apt characterization of this case.
If you want to know who your real friends are, you’ll find out when they have nothing to gain from having you around. A certain subset of people will love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. That appears to be so with Ahithophel and also with his archetype Judas.
But we must also realize another truth. The disciples scattered in all directions when Jesus was arrested. The dreams they had associated with their version of the Messianic Kingdom were crushed. Instead of the spoils of victory from the defeat of their enemies, they were gazing into the maw of prosecution and possibly death. And so they fled.
But every one of the remaining eleven came back. Your friends might leave you in times of need, but in time through an act of grace they can be friends again.
Jesus, though denied and abandoned, went searching for those who had done the denying and abandoning. First he appeared to them in the upper room and encouraged them not to be afraid. The he appeared to them in a more forceful way, especially with Peter who had publicly denied him three times. Three times Jesus pointed his finger in Peter’s face and asked him to affirm his undying friendship, even if such affirmation would claim Peter’s life.
Your friends might leave you in your time of need, whether from weakness or lack of character. Still, never burn bridges and never build walls. People do change.
Lenny Cacchio is a resident of Lee’s Summit. He blogs at http://morningcompanionblogspot.com/.