Friendship requires intimacy. By ‘intimacy’, I mean a kind of closeness, a mutual and deep knowledge of the other with whom we are friends. Aristotle agrees when he suggests that a true friendship requires a shared life.Two friends do not share a life merely by living under the same roof; true friendship, instead, is based on shared values and a sharing of oneself—one’s inner life, including one’s joys and sorrows.
In Luke 4:21-30, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, which one might think would be a place intimacy for Jesus. But it’s not. The people in the synagogue taunt Jesus and want him to perform great signs and wonders for them. He replies:
“[T]here were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years…It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian”.
Why won’t Jesus perform miracles in Nazareth? The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 gives us a clue. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, one who extorted his neighbors on behalf of the Roman government, taxing them far more than was required and skimming his share from the excess. In those days, tax collectors were regarded as great sinners, much like prostitutes were counted among the worst of society. The sinner Zacchaeus longed to see Jesus, and so he climbed a tree to get a better view. When Jesus passed Zacchaeus, He saw him and said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (v.5). Jesus invites him to intimate friendship, and Zacchaeus accepts: “So, he made haste and came down and received him joyfully” (v.6).
Jesus is willing to be the guest of one counted among the vilest sinners in the community—a tax collector. He does not shy away from what is foul, ugly, and dark. He wants to go to those places, in this case the home of the sinner Zacchaeus, where no one thinks God would or should go. Jesus chooses Zacchaeus because Zacchaeus is willing to have an intimate friendship with Him. Zacchaeus takes Jesus under his roof, which is an intimate thing in and of itself, but it is also a sign of his willingness to share his very self with the Lord. The result of this encounter is Zacchaeus’s healing; he turns his life around and follows Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t heal in his hometown because the people there don’t want the kind of intimacy with the Lord that Zacchaeus wants. They don’t want to be vulnerable with Jesus and lay their own sinfulness before Him. If they don’t want to have Jesus under their roof (and they don’t; they drove Him out), then He won’t stay. He does not force friendship on anyone.The same holds true for us 2,000 years later. Jesus wants an intimate friendship with us, and He is willing to touch the festering wounds in us if we let Him. He wants to share our sorrows—perhaps an ongoing sinful addiction, a broken relationship, or feelings of inadequacy. The places that we might not want Him to see are precisely the places where He wants to go. We know this because He has shown us this in the story of Zacchaeus and over and over again all the way up to His crucifixion. There is no sense in hiding our wounds and putting on a good face for Jesus; all of that blocks intimacy. The Sacrament of Penance and daily prayer are opportunities to reveal our wounds to Jesus so that He might heal them.
The choice to engage in intimate friendship with Jesus is ours: we can drive Jesus out like those in Nazareth, or we can, in all our woundedness and sin, welcome Him in like Zacchaeus.
See, for instance, Aristotle’s Nicomachean EthicsBook 8, Ch. 3 1156b25ff.