I wonder if the Three Kings were ever friends. One would think they might have been, since in the Nativity scene, where they became famous, they are always pictured together. But coming from different kingdoms and different cultures, it is unlikely that they were together very long, much less friends. Indeed, they probably didn’t even speak the same language. From different regions of the globe, they came following a star, certain it would lead them to Someone extraordinary. When they found him, they gave him gifts that manifested each kings’s insight into him. One gave him gold, acknowledging his kingship; another gave him frankincense, acknowledging his divinity; one gave him myrrh, acknowledging his humanity. It is not at all clear that each was conscious of what the other two were giving; we do not know whether each acknowledged a God-Man-King. But having encountered this Child together, they seemed to have had a similar interior experience that drew them together. Their lives would be different, their journey changed. They would not return the same way.
But did they become friends?
There are friends and there are friends, and exploring its various depths belongs to friends and friendships. For many, friendship is a journey, not a fixed destiny; sometimes happily short, and other times arduously long. The journey leads over mountains and valleys, by sunshine and rain. Sometimes the vistas are foggy, dark, and foreboding; at other times, the vistas are clear, uplifting, and breathtaking. So if the Three Kings were friends, what was the nature of their journey?
Certainly, they were not friends alone. They were not lonely. The journey of friendship begins when people are no longer isolated, but together, male, female, straight, gay, funny or cynical, reverent or irreverent. Many times the shared journeys are not really decided on: a shared neighborhood, a shared classroom, a shared alma mater, a shared workplace, a shared career, people of different sizes and shapes, persuasions and convictions coming together. At other times, the journey is decided on: a shared vacation for common enjoyment, a shared cause for empowered advocacy; a shared drink for woozy celebration. The shared journeys make the friendships.
For the shared journeys, there is shared food, shared gifts, and shared tents; there are shared views, shared stories. Often, over beer, or better, wine, there is shared laughter, or shared tears. Some say the essence of friendship is here: that a friend can share freely of him- or herself, because a friend is listening, and cares; that a friend can speak of fanciful dreams and heroic desires, or speak of gnawing uncertainties and crippling fears, because there is a friend who cares. Friendship then is privileged human communication, not only because a friend shares, but also because a friend listens. Friendship is truth. To arrive at its depth, friends must travel through many forests and ford many streams, they must see the world from the tops of the mountains or see the skies from the darkness of the ravines. They must help one another persevere. On this level, I think, friendship does not just happen. It is a pathway taken by decision. A commitment.
With friends, normally one is at ease. Normally, I say, because sometimes friendship can be a challenge to see new vistas, to appreciate new realities, to break out of comfort zones and experience life in a wonderfully new way. When such happens, friendship is sometimes put on the line, because of the intensity of the challenge, which wishes only the good of the friend. Here, friendship survives in a leap of faith, or in sympathy and understanding.
But normally, with friends, one is at ease. No make-up needed, no pretentious masks. With friends, one shares anecdotes, laughs, or sings. One can even share silence. No need for noise to break the silence; instead, the need for silence to hear the harmony within! Normally, married people are friends. Sometimes, however, they are not. When they are not, it is very sad indeed.
Were the Three Kings friends? A purely fanciful question! But they came from different cultures and different kingdoms, and they encountered the Child. They shared their encounter with Jesus, and his effect on them interiorly. Their journey could never be the same!
Perhaps it was similar with those two disciples journeying to Emmaus. They had thought their hero dead and defeated. But when they recognized him in the Breaking of the Bread, they remembered their hearts aflame as the Stranger explained to them the Scripture. From then on, their journey in friendship could never be the same.