This Sunday, His Friend Is My Friend; His Enemy Is My Foe
The Gospel for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time gives a very basic, and therefore very powerful, way to understand the Christian life.
The friend of my friend is my friend; the enemy of my friend is my enemy. We know that instinctively on the natural level. Jesus wants us to see that it is also true on the supernatural level.
It all starts when John makes the error we do.
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he doesn’t follow us,” he says.
Jesus replies, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.”
John took the rebuke to heart. He would later sum up Jesus’s whole mission this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
The fact is, driving out demons is God’s work, not man’s, and anyone who does it — whether it’s the chief exorcist of Rome or a Louisiana Baptist who learned deliverance prayer — is doing God’s work.
Whoever is the enemy of Jesus’s enemy, the devil, is my friend. Or, as Jesus puts it: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” This actually says the same thing as his other famous saying: “Whoever is not with me is against me.” It means that the one who acts with Christ is Christ’s; and anyone who acts against Christ is not.
You see this most clearly in what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacraments. We accept any Christian baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — whether it is done by a Methodist, a Lutheran or at an Assemblies of God revival; and any Eucharistic consecration by a priest with apostolic succession is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, whether it is done by a Russian Orthodox, a Copt, or a Chaldean.
That also goes for those who speak truth.
In the first reading, from Numbers, the Lord gives the spirit of prophesy to 70 elders. “But two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering.” They were supposed to be there, but they stayed in their tent. Nonetheless, they prophesy too.
When the great Joshua, son of Nun, hears about it he demands Moses stop them.
No way, says Moses. Let them prophesy. Any friend of the truth is his friend. To this day, the truth has many friends, and many of them are not of our company.
Jesus considers these friends close to him. Very close.
“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, Amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward,” he says.
But the reverse is also the case. Any assistance we offer the devil makes us the enemies of Jesus Christ.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,” he says, “it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
Notice that he doesn’t say anyone who harms a little one, but anyone who causes sin in a little one. If we promote sin, or allow it, or ignore it, we are friends of the devil and enemies of Jesus.
Next, he says to “cut off your hand,” or your foot, and to “pluck out your eye,” if they cause you to sin.
These are all versions of the same maxim: We are the body of Christ. If we become an ally of the devil, we deserve the devil’s fate; and if we act for the devil and against Christ, we disconnect ourselves from the body. If we sin mortally, we exclude ourselves from Jesus Christ and the wound we make can only be healed by confession.
In the same way, we need to cut off not our limbs, but anything in our lives that draws us to sin mortally, whether it be a lifestyle, liquor, or a laptop; whether it be a cable channel, a credit card, or a clique. Doctors amputate a limb in order to save the body. We have to amputate sin to save our soul. But we often do the opposite: We amputate our soul to save our sin.
Jesus describes where that will lead us — “to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” This is hell, according to Jesus Christ; a place where we are tortured from within, as if by a worm eating our soul, and tormented from outside, as if by fire that burns without burning us up, forever.
I worry about that, because the fact is, we Westerners all have one major sin in our life that needs to amputated.
James describes it in the Second Reading:
“Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver has corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like fire.”
Who are these rich who are in for such a terrible fate? They are those who “withheld [wages] from the workers who harvested your fields” and those who “have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure,” at the expense of others.
St. James is acting as a prophet here, decrying the sins of the rich in his time, but as Moses said to Joshua, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”
He got his wish. Today, every baptized person does have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are each prophets. That doesn’t mean we tell the future; it means we tell the truth. So let’s not be afraid to take St. James’s prophecy to heart, and repeat its truth in our time.
Clearly, St. James’ words apply to America, where so many of us rely on the hard work of underpaid migrant farm workers far away, all over the world, to get cheap food. As the Catechism puts it, workers deserve a just wage. Their pay should “guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level.” Are we willing to pay for that?
And who does his description of those who live in luxury and pleasure apply to if not each of us, who live in a temperature-controlled home being constantly entertained and taking our freedoms for granted while most of the world struggles to get by and Christians suffer bitter persecution?
This is why, in the Mass this Sunday, we cry again and again for mercy.
The Entrance Antiphon says “We have sinned against you and not obeyed your commandments. But … deal with us according to the bounty of your mercy.”
The Collect cries out to God, “who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy.”
The fact is, God gives us the power to cut off any sin from our life, even the sins that seem part of the very social fabric we live in. He does it through communion at each Mass.
And then he wants us to act: to tell his truth in public, and to live his truth in private, and to see him in everyone whose life we touch.