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Recently, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be penning a children’s book called ‘The friends of Jesus’. In it, he is said to focus on the relationship of fourteen men with Jesus. Yes, men. The fourteen are the twelve original Apostles, St. Matthias who went to replace Judas in the twelve, and St. Paul who, while never part of the twelve, is generally considered an apostle all the same.
Following the release of this little news item certain people have gotten into a huff about the fact that the book only deals with men. “Surely, they say, women were also Jesus’ friends? So why are they not in the book? It must because the pope doesn’t like or is afraid of women.” That is a basic summation of their logic.
In the first point they are correct. There is enough Scriptural evidence that Jesus’ followers included both men and women, and some women indeed had a notable relation to Christ. The Blessed Virgin in the first place, of course, but also St. Mary Magdelene, and the other women who were present at the Crucifixion. But the pope doesn’t write about them. Why not?
The answer seems straightforward when one considers the aforementioned list of men. They are the Apostles. The Apostles are a very clearly identified group of men. Like it or not, the fact remains that there was not a woman among them.
“But women were also Jesus’ friends”, the masses clamour. Yes, and here we have the core of the problem. The term ‘friend’. It’s somewhat simplistic term to refer to the actual relationship that Jesus had with the Apostles. For a children’s book it’s use is understandable, of course, and we shouldn’t read to much into that, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Back to the problem of the term ‘friend’. There seems to be something of a consensus that Jesus and the Apostles were friends, mates, who met up for meals and conversation, maybe a party here and there, and nothing more. That idea limits the person of Christ to the strictly human; he becomes nothing but a good and nice man, who had some clever things to say. He was good, he had smart things to say, of course, but He was much more than that. Christ, after all, is God. And the Apostles knew that, although it took them a while. Christ is God, He brings salvation to all, and that fact must have coloured the relationship between Christ and the Apostles. They were much more than friends. He was their Lord and Saviour, and they in their turn were tasked with very specific and special duties in the Church He established.
Of course, He was also the Lord and Saviour of the women He knew, like He is to everyone who ever lived and will live. But the aforementioned tasks given to the Apostles made their relationship, the ‘friendship’ unique. Selecting them as the group to focus on a book is quite understandable. That is not a matter of ignoring the women in the life of Jesus and the women in the Church of today, but the complete opposite: the acknowledgement of the ‘friendship’ of Christ with His apostles.
In writing any book, an author must make choices. The pope could have taken a random selection of people to describe in his book, but he didn’t. He chose a specific group, the people who were closest to Christ in His active ministry here on earth. And as I said, calling them friends is correct but incomplete. It is, however, understandable for a children’s book which deals chiefly with getting to know Christ as someone near to us, as a friend. That can be the basis for further development of our relationship with Him. Seems like a fairly good place to start for children.
Politics and gender issues are misplaced and misguided in this and many other cases.