With civil partnerships and gay marriage making the headlines, the common assumption seems to be that same sex friendships are always erotic. What utter nonsense! My mind goes to the friendship between Jonathan and David. They became the closest of friends –and yet there was nothing sexual about their relationships. They were just the best of friends, who loved one another, were committed to one another, and as a result gained strength from one another for all the ups and downs of life.
Yes, they loved one another: or in the words of 1 Sam 18.1, “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul”. Precisely how this love arose, we are not told. It may be that initially Jonathan was attracted to David by his bravery, while David may have been attracted to Jonathan by his integrity. But whatever, there developed a strong friendship – indeed, what the Bible calls a love – between one another. As a result there was no room in Jonathan’s heart for jealousy or envy when the women of Israel celebrated David’s military conquests over against those of his father (see 1 Sam 18.7). The truth is that David’s exploits threatened not just Saul’s position, but David’s position too. But as it was, we read that “Jonathan delighted much in David” (1 Sam 19.1). Sadly it is sometimes easier to weep with those who weep, than rejoice with those who rejoice. The success of others is sometimes difficult to cope with. Not for nothing has it been said, ‘A true friend is one who sticks by you, even when you become successful’. Jonathan was such a friend, who because of his love for David, was able to delight in David’s success.
As a result of their love for one another, they committed themselves to one another: in the words of i Sam 18.3 “Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” – or as the GNB puts it, “Jonathan swore eternal friendship with David”. A sign of this ‘partnership’ to use the word much in vogue today, was that “Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (1 Sam 18.4). This was far more than a generous act of a prince to a shepherd boy who wasn’t dressed aright for court or for battle. No, in giving his clothing and his armour Jonathan was giving of himself to David; he was in effect saying ‘all that I am and all that I have is yours’.
As a result of this love for one another and commitment to one another, they gained strength from one another. An illustration of this strength in togetherness is found at a time when David, afraid for his life, was on the run from Saul. On that occasion “Jonathan strengthened his hand through the Lord” (1 Sam 23.16) – or in the words of the GNB “Jonathan went to him and encouraged him with assurances of God’s protection”. It has been said: “A true friend will strengthen you with his prayers, bless you with his love and encourage you with his hope”. Jonathan was a true friend.
Jonathan and David formed a great partnership. But there was nothing sexual about this relationship. The truth is that same sex friendship does not have to be erotic.
On reflection Jonathan and David provide a great model for relationships in the church. For Christians are also called to love one another and to be committed to one another. As I say whenever I welcome new members into our church, ‘church membership involves entering a dynamic covenant relationship with one another’ in which we commit ourselves ‘to love one another and stand by one another whatever the cost’. And as a result of entering into such a ‘covenant’ or ‘partnership’ we find mutual strength to cope with all the ups and downs of life. The fact is that even the deepest of partnerships do not have to be erotic.