Today with a focus on the gospel reading, the Word of God gives us criteria by which we can recognize who is a foe and who is not. What is more, we’ll be taught in what ways Christians ought to deal with friends and foes. In this connection preaching on “The parable of the tares,” M. Luther suggests to respect and tolerate all the members of our churches as though they were saints. What is even more, there are a number of pre-Christian and nonchurched people who are not saints but are still nice men. However, it doesn’t mean that we should lovingly embrace everyone professing Christianity, (Act 13:10). Consider as well that the fallen world is hostile toward the people who profess the truth; and actually, we are surrounded by enemies on every side.
After a brief introduction on the matter, we start to get a glimpse of the conversation between Jesus and his beloved disciple John, (vv. 39,40). Speaking on behalf of his friends, John told Jesus that they forbade a stranger to cast out demons. The disciples believed that it was unlawful to use Jesus’ name by anyone who doesn’t belong to their company. Next, the disciples believed that unrepented sinners who by words and deeds have denied Jesus are their enemies. And finally, it is believed that the disciples were jealous of the exorcist because of his successful performance.
The episode told by John is similar to one found in (Num 11:26-29) – the OT reading of this day. It speaks of Joshua, the disciple of Moses, who for some reasons disliked the two men, Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp. The first reason was because these “fresh prophets” were not the elders; and secondly, at that moment Joshua was jealous. Both Moses and Jesus negatively responded to such reasons. “Are you jealous for me?” said Moses, “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets.” “Do not try to stop him,” said Jesus, “for there is not anyone who performs a supernatural deed using my name who will be able to quickly say something bad about me.” Then, he gave to the disciples a rule, “For the person who is not against us is for us,” (vv. 39, 40). In other words, the people who are not against Jesus and his offspring need to be accepted as friends and to be handled with respect.
Now, for a practical purpose, let’s apply the rule given by Jesus for ourselves. Just by a simple disaffirmation we can easily discern people who are not our enemies. It should be clear that friends are those who would not destroy our churches along with our homes. Please imagine yourselves the Pakistani people who did not participate in the persecution of Christians in their town of Mardan on Friday Sept. 21 2012. On that day we saw a mob of hundreds of Muslim men attacked and set on fire St. Paul’s Lutheran cathedral, its parsonage, and its school. As far as we did not desecrate the altar, tear the Bibles in pieces, leave the Christians’ children without school, attack clergy, and didn’t do other disgusting things, the Christians should consider us as their friends. Now we imagine ourselves as the opponents of the anti-Christian arts, such as Serrano’s painting of vulgarity called “Piss Christ.” Today the blaspheming continues at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery, New York where the mentioned “artwork” goes on display for a month. But if we would not go to that expo, even thought we may have a golden opportunity, we are considered as Christians’ friends. By the way, if we are Christians’ friends we won’t miss a golden opportunity to be rewarded by God in giving “a glass of water” to the thirsty disciple of Christ, (v. 41).
After the teaching about friends follows naturally the teaching about enemies. With respect to the disposition of our enemies, they can be regarded as internal and external. As concerning the external enemies, Jesus teaches us to love them, (Luk 6:27). The apostle Paul gives an explanation of how to“love our enemies” in the epistle to Romans. Therefore, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head,” (12:20).But in the case of our internal enemies, the Word of God teaches differently. Let’s begin a lesson by reading (Ps 101:8) belonging to King David. “Each morning,” said the King, “I will destroy all the wicked people in the land, and remove all evildoers from the city of the LORD.” The reminder of this verse alerts us to be not respectful of our enemies but to treat them without mercy as the faithful David did; namely, putting them to death and cutting off. However, on the figurative use of the verse, David speaks of his internal enemies, namely, of his wicked thoughts and evil desires. These occupied his mind and heart like the hostile Philistines and Canaanites who once before occupied Israel. We guess that fasting and praying were the weapons by which means the King wiped out the wicked thoughts of his mind and removed the ungodly desires of his heart each morning.
We are not better than David, nor half so good. Therefore each of us carries the dreadful enemies within himself that lead a man to eternal condemnation and punishment. For example, Cain killed his brother Abel with his strong hand when two brothers were in a field. As a result God brought disaster upon Cain that was greater than Cain could bear. Another example is when Zimri, the official of the king Elah, was taken by foot to the house of the king’s prime minister, and there he assassinated Elah, (1Ki 16:10).But the army refused him as a new king and in order to escape the public execution, Zimri had burned himself and the palace. One more example is when a man from the tribe of Judah, named Achan, set his eyes on the trophy that had to be put into the treasure of the Lord. He had coveted it and he stole the considerable amount of gold and silver, (Jos 7:21). When the crime was disclosed, Achan and his household were stoned to death and burned with fire. From here we conclude that the mentioned transgressions were costly, their cost extended far beyond losing one’s hand, one’s foot, and one’s eye.
In the light of the given realities, the words of Jesus (vv. 43 -48), “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!… ;” ” If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off!… ;” “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out!… ;” can be taken on its literal sense rather than figurative. It would be better for Cain to enter into life crippled, or lame – for Zimri, or with one eye – for Achan, or to be thrown into the sea with a huge millstone tied around the neck of a bad person, (v. 42) rather than to turn out to be a murderer, a robber, a seducer ” and be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies and the fire is never quench,” (vv. 44,46,48).
At this moment some internal enemies are disclosed; they reflect the very core of our sinful nature and we are the wretched people because we are the enemies of ourselves’ even though we might have not murdered anyone, or stolen anything, or seduced Christians from their faith. Yea, we are guilty of many sins, especially if we don’t care! Then, do we have a chance to escape a punishment as much as a Roman legionnaire who once couldn’t overcome his sleepiness and fell asleep while on his duty? Meanwhile the regulation read that if a guard was found asleep at or left his post, then he would be stoned or beaten for putting fellow soldiers at risk.
Let’s assume that we still have not known our destiny, but we know how King Herod treated the guards after miraculous escaping of Peter from the Jerusalem jail. According to (Act 12:19) Herod put the poor guards to death. Fortunately not all things are so bad; a historical account of some rulers speaks of the unmatched generosity and kindness. One example can be found in the wonderful painting by a Canadian artist of “C’est l’Empereur” in 1890, where we find a sharp contrast with the previous picture of Herod. The painter portrayed a soldier in the army of Napoleon who fell asleep while on duty. When the soldier woke up in the early morning, he found the Commander in Chief standing on his post. “I am lost,” he cried, “it is the Emperor!” Alas! The soldier was not sentenced to death despite his serious transgression, but the Emperor generously forgave him. What is the most impressive here is that Napoleon had not awakened the soldier; instead, he stood at the soldier’s post until the poor guard woke up by himself. For this and many others virtues the old Guardia loved his Commander standing fast on the battlefields, even to death.
Now is the right moment to express our feelings to King Jesus – the true image of the eternal Father and the unequalled King of kindness and generosity; even death couldn’t stop him to redeem his people from their enemies and their failures. He suffered the cross on behalf of his people making himself the sin offering, so that his flock might have peace with the Father through the forgiveness of their wrongdoings. As we recall God’s forgiveness in Christ, we return Jesus our thanks while we are still alive; for his compassion to us is so great, and he has assisted us in our afflictions. There is no one like our Lord Jesus Christ!
Going back to the teachings of the day, let’s repeat briefly what we’ve learned. First, in order to be sure that people who are not against us are our friends, we turned to be like they are, and we were proved. Next, we were reminded that the external enemies like persecutors ought to be handled with love until God will show them justice. Regarding internal enemies such as the wicked thoughts and evil desires – we ought to treat them without mercy; in some occasions even at the price of the parts of one’s own body. It means that the afflictions and trials caused by our sins are not to be fled from or avoided, but overcome by prayers and fasting as King David did. Next, we confronted two characters, King Herod and the emperor Napoleon, with respect to their understanding of justice and mercy. But the most profound understanding of justice and mercy belong to Christ Jesus from whom we’ve learned criteria by which we can recognize who is a foe and who is not and how to treat them. And finally, if God the Father spared not his own Son in order to effect our salvation, what sacrifice on our part can be considered great, if not in return to keep salt within ourselves, and be at peace with one another?