Mark Maxam was my best friend from ages eight to eighteen. Except for three long months. Inseparable companions, we walked to school together, learned to ski together, spent weekends at each other’s houses, jumped off church roofs together, and shared every conceivable secret.
We also roughhoused. One day, Mark put me in a scissor-lock. I wriggled, writhed, struggled, and strained, but I couldn’t free myself. So, I bit him. He released me with roar: You bit me! The blush of unbounded humiliation lit my cheeks on fire, and I bellowed back, “No I didn’t!”
The thing is, he knew I was lying. And I knew that he knew I was lying. And he knew, that I knew, that he knew that, I was lying. The shame of my thinly veiled deceit (not to mention my illicit nibble) sent me on an emotional, self-protective, self-centered tailspin.
I stomped out of his house in a huff. I didn’t apologize or call him back.
Three months later, Mark stopped by my house and silently resumed our friendship as though nothing had happened. After a few days, I hesitantly asked why he never mentioned my biting. He answered,
I decided friendship is more important than being right.
I was the one who committed the repugnant deed. Grown boys (at least ten-year-olds) don’t bite. In my day, it was perfectly respectable to exercise your hands with a punch, tackle, or a headlock—heck it was even admirable—but only sissies exercised their teeth in a fight.
But bite I did, and there was absolutely no doubt in either of our minds. There was even unassailable proof in an indentation on Mark’s calf. It exactly matched my dentist’s Xray’s.
So why didn’t I admit my vile deed? Confessing wouldn’t have added any information to the investigation. All the facts were unambiguously known by the participants.
Why is it so hard for us admit to being wrong? The people around us know that we: lashed out in anger, drank too much, dwelt on bitterness, or acted the oversensitive victim the third time this week (Poor, poor me!). All we have to say is, “I did it. I was wrong.”
Is it even humble to admit guilt when our shame is so obvious? We look more foolish when we don’t confess. It’s stupid to add egotism to our disgusting deeds. If I had confessed, it wouldn’t have been humility as much as it was common sense.
But it was humble for the victim to visit and rekindle the friendship. If you were Mark, wouldn’t you have wanted to bring charges against me? (Maybe behind my back to other friends.) Instead he stopped by my house and invited me for a bike ride.
Mark was a real friend. And his humility gave me the courage to confess, apologize, and repent.
Most people’s problems with Jesus include the virgin birth (“Science has proven the need for a male participant”), other miracles (“Come on, no one can walk on water”), the atonement (How can one guy’s death centuries ago mean anything today), or the resurrection (So where is he?).
But perhaps the most difficult theological idea is the sense of the divine becoming human, the idea that the immortal God could dress himself in the skin of mortal man; that he could become both eternal God and killable man at the same time. (Although, if he is divine, all the problems from the list above disappear.)
The real question with the incarnation is: Why? Why would God take on the sweaty, vulnerable, lowly, common form of humanity? Why tarnish the spotless? Why let the Absolute Holy need to take baths? Why?
God came to us because he valued friendship: “I no longer call you servants … I call you friends” (John 15:15). God was humble enough to visit us in our home here on earth, even when we are desperately in the wrong and frantically running from ever admitting it.
If the humble friendship of the incarnation is true—and it is—maybe we can become a little more humble (or honest) this Christmas with others whom we have wronged. Maybe even to call friends and family we haven’t seen for years and simply say, “I did it. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” And if we think we are 100% innocent:
Maybe friendship is more important than being right.