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Smiles in the Sunlight



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If I never see another box of Raisin Bran, it’ll be soon enough, I thought, slamming the last box of that brand on the shelf. This had not turned out to be my idea of a good evening.

All summer Ed, Carl, and I had worked as late-night shelf stockers at the A&P. I hadn’t known them before, but enough hours in an empty store will turn almost anyone into friends. Between shopping cart races down the aisles and bowling for cereal boxes with soup cans, we’d developed into a working team. Sure, we goofed off some, but Mr. Altobelli didn’t seem to mind as long as we got the work done.

Why do kids have to eat so many Cheerios, anyway? I wondered as I moved on to that shelf.

We ran around together outside of work too. We spent some time cruising the town and crashed a few parties together. And this last weekend before the start of school had promised a good time at a beach party.

Only Wheaties to go now. For me it would be breakfast for a chump, not a champion.

Just last night we’d all agreed to get to work early so we could take off for the beach as soon as possible. We’d work extra hard, no fooling around, and be done by 10:00 p.m.

“Great,” I’d said. “I’ll be there at 6:30.” And, of course, I was. Like a witless wonder I’d rushed right into Mr. Altobelli’s office to check in.

“Hey,” he’d smiled, “Carl said you’d be here early. It sure was nice of you to volunteer to work extra so they could take the evening off and go to the beach. You must be a good friend.”

I mumbled something and staggered into the stockroom. Those jerks! They’d set me up to do all the work. They knew I wouldn’t leave Mr. Altobelli with no help.

Four hours later, as I was wheeling the last load to the trash dumpster, I’d thought the whole thing through. I’d even talked to my boss about it. I’m not sure why, but I did.

“Fair-weather friends,” he called them.

They were fun to be around when life was looking sunny, but when the wind shifted and the clouds lowered, they thought only of themselves. He was right, and the fact that they were friends made it hurt worse. I had to admit, though, that I had done the same thing to some of my friends in the past.

“But no more,” I said to the yawning dumpster as I tossed in the load. “From now on, my friends can count on me no matter what the forecast.”

Who needs enemies?
Jesus had more than His share of fair-weather friends. In fact, with friends like His, He didn’t need enemies. The masses that followed Him seemed devoted to this Man who healed the sick, raised the dead, and fed the hungry. They were with Him 100 percent. They wanted Him to proclaim Himself king of the Jews. Things would be great, they thought, when Jesus ran off the Romans.
 
But as He explained the nature of His kingdom, with its basis of love and servanthood, they began to wonder. When He taught them to deny themselves and forgive their enemies, many never followed Him again. If He wasn’t going to push their enemies out for them, they had other things to do.
 
His disciples pledged their loyalty no matter what, but we know how that turned out. Just scan down chapter 26 of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life:
“Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. . . .
 
“And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Hail, Master!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, why are you here?’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him” (verses 14–50).
 
Judas wasn’t the only one.
“Peter declared to him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. . . .
 
“Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. . . .
 
“After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man’” (verses 33–74).
It had to hurt. A stab in the back from someone you trust hurts worse than a fist in the face from an obvious enemy.
 
To add to the pain, the crowd—the same ones whom He had healed and fed, the ones who had shouted praises and hosannas when He had entered the city—now roared for His blood.
 
How could they have been so abusive, so disloyal, so unfriendly? And yet, are we so different today?
 
We claim to be Christians, friends of Jesus. But how often do we yield to the pressures around us and deny that we are Christians at all, either by our words, our thoughts, or our actions? Can we believe that we hurt Jesus any less than did Peter, or the crowds, or even Judas?
 
When we allow circumstances to alter our loyalty to God, we are fair-weather friends, fair-weather Christians. Our friendship to God, like our friendships with those around us, is tested by difficult situations.
 
But we can stay loyal during the storms of life. When darkness encloses us and we can’t see the Son, we can still know He’s there, and we can know we’ll stay with Him always.
 
We can know this because we know Him. We don’t just talk about God—we talk to God. God is involved in every part of our lives, as a friend. Our closest Friend.
 
How did Jesus deal with fair-weather friends? The pain on His face when Peter denied Him was mingled with a promise of forgiveness, and that promise gave Peter the courage to come back. The same forgiveness was available to Judas, but he turned away. And for the crowds who cried for His death, He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
 
To us He offers the same forgiveness and opportunity. He offers to lead us to that level of trust that will make us true friends, no matter what the weather.
 
 
This article originally appeared in a June 1989 issue of Insight. At that time Jerry D. Thomas taught Bible at Highland View Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. He is now vice president for Product Development at Pacific Press Publishing Association in Nampa, Idaho. He is also the author of hundreds of articles and stories and more than 40 books, including Messiah, the Detective Zack series, and the Shoebox Kids Bible stories.
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