A great New Testament word describing our relationship to God and each other is “parakaleo” in the Greek. The word means “a called one alongside.” Para for alongside and kale for called one. As the Hebrew word “henini,” meaning “here am I” registers presence, “parakaleo” describes our role as a listener.
The summary of the Law, Loving God, neighbor and self, becomes the focus as parakaleio, called one alongside, moves from God to neighbor to self.
The word is translated into English in a variety of ways, console, comfort, entreat, etc. consequently reading an English translation of the New Testament will not show its frequency.
From the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel we have “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The word “comforted” is a form of parakaleo. “Those who are going through a profound experience will have a called one alongside. “That someone could be you or I or both. This Scripture verse is one of two sung in the first movement of Brahm’s Requiem.
Ronald Knox translates parakaleo as Befriender in the line from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. “Blessed are those going through a profound experience for they shall have a Befriender.” The word advocate is related here as well, paraclyte.
St. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians in a passage, chapter 1, vs. 3-7. In five verses he uses parakaleo 9 times to describe our shifting relationship as God is alongside us, others are alongside us, and we are alongside others. This truly is the work of the Spirit, paraclyte, translated “advocate.” The Holy Spirit works alongside in the work of transforming whatever is taking place.
This is the passage from 2nd Corinthians.
"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
Now I will put Befriender in the place of comfort in the 2 Corinthian passage.
"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all Befriending, 4 who Befriends us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to Befriend those who are in any affliction, with the Befriending with which we ourselves are Befriended by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in Befriending too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your Befriending and salvation; and if we are Befriended, it is for your Befriending, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our Befriending.
We have to remember St. Paul was a lawyer. He has a way of moving comfort, parakaleo, a called one alongside, around in the three aspects of God, self, and others. I like it. The passage provides a good foundation for story listeners as well.
We are called to be radically relational.
retired hospital chaplains
founder of the Befrienders in 1966, St. Luke's Hospital, Davenport, Iowa, now Genesis Medical Center.
Adding a recent experience in a local Greek restaurant. I pronounced the word as I had been pronouncing it, parakaleo. And he said parakalo. That is what you say when you answer the phone in modern Greek. I will be saying the word again the next time I eat there.