Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2010-09-10

Jesus Christ demonstrated how to be a friend, and his example should serve the rest of us as a groundspring for friendship, New Testament theologian Gail R. O’Day told Samford University students Thursday, Sept. 9

In the book of John, Jesus is the model of friendship as well as the source of friendship. “He shows us how to be a friend by the way he loves,” said Dr. O’Day, whose scholarly research focuses on the Gospel of John and biblical interpretation.

“If we can be friends, then the world becomes a different place because it is shaped by the practice of love,” she said, adding that the book of John references only one commandment: That ye love one another as I have loved you.

“If we can get that one right, others are irrelevant. If we can do that, the others will fall into place,” said O’Day, whose writings include the Gospel of John commentary in The New Interpreters Bible (1996).

Dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity, O’Day spoke to the student convocation as part of the Samford religion department’s Holley-Hull Lecture series. The annual Howard L. and Martha H. Holley Lectures: New Testament Voices for a Contemporary World, honor university professor and retired Samford provost Dr. William E. Hull.

O’Day also gave one other lecture at Samford and one at Baptist Church of the Covenant, all on the theme of friendship as evidenced in the book of John. The convocation audience in Reid Chapel included Warren Holley, Howard Holley and Nancy Holley Capacik, the sons and daughter of the late Howard L. and Mary H. Holley, who were longtime members of Birmingham’s Mountain Brook Baptist Church.

John chronicles numerous ways Jesus showed love and friendship,  said O’Day, such as the parable of the good shepherd, which contrasts  a person  who truly cares for his flock with one who doesn’t.

“A false friend will not be around in time of crisis, but a true friend will be,” she said.

Jesus’ loving friendship also was evidenced just prior to his arrest when he deprived Judas access to the disciples, thus protecting his flock; at his crucifixion, when by carrying his own cross he symbolized that he lays down his own life; and when he washed the disciples’ feet in the ultimate act of hospitality and service. 

“He doesn’t merely talk about the act of friendship, he lives it and commands that his followers do the same,” said O’Day. “If we long to be called a friend by Jesus, we must give love freely without worrying about who is on the receiving end, or who is worthy.”

“Jesus models his love by giving his life, but he transforms the community by giving his love so that they can continue giving his love.”


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.