“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The quote has been described as an Arabic proverb, but more likely it comes from advice given in India by a leader who died under mysterious circumstances.
This attitude that my enemy’s enemy is my ally has been used countless times in politics and warfare to justify the “strange bedfellows” that certain alliances have created in the pursuit of political and military goals. But is there any spiritual benefit to this attitude and political tool?
In our Gospel Lesson today, the Lord’s disciples come to Jesus to report on their good work. They are seeking His approval for their actions. You see, they have come across a man who wasn’t part of their group casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The disciples told him to stop doing that since he wasn’t part of the company of the disciples. They were surprised at the Lord’s response!
Look how the Lord responds in our Gospel Lesson in Luke 9:49-56:
At that time, one of Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you.” When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.
So, the Lord turns this old saying on its head to teach the disciples a valuable lesson in both humility and the extent of God’s grace given to the whole world.
The disciples are encouraged to break the small mentality of “our group” in favor of the more cosmic understanding of the grace of God given to all who sincerely seek to know God. What a powerful lesson for us today to overcome the temptation to “cliques” and our own spiritual ghettos that do little more than shrink our vision of God and our love for others. Jesus applies loving wisdom to the natural tendency in the disciples, and all of us, to forget just how loving, giving, and humble our God really is. He is so gracious that anyone who seeks to embrace Him, He embraces.
And that means whomever He embraces should never be slandered as an enemy. God’s grace is always bigger than our vision!
Now be careful here! Seeing God’s amazing grace, we are also challenged to understand that God’s mercy and grace is possible in the world because He has a Church in the world. Far from this cosmic truth suggesting that there is some sort of “universalism” at work here where it is irrelevant what you believe as long as you have nice thoughts and kind actions, the very reason there is grace in the world that works throughout the world is because Jesus is still Present in His world through His Church. Anyone who gives you a cup of water in Christ’s name will not lose his reward because Christ is still in His world through His Church!
Today, instead of shrewdly maneuvering this or that person in your life to create maximum benefit for yourself, ask the Lord to release you to bring His presence to every situation in your life. Watch as His Presence draws out of others a kindness, a service, righteousness that they, themselves, may not have realized they possessed. Instead of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” let’s transform by grace our relationships, our acquaintances, our surroundings into humble opportunities for the Presence of Jesus in His Church to transfigure even those who don’t realize they are on the Lord’s side into companions on this spiritual journey toward Him Who loves us even more than we, ourselves, know how to love. That’s when we will be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, today I am going to come across people who aren’t like me. I am going to meet people who I don’t recognize. And I am going to struggle with treating them as strangers instead of people created in Your image. Forgive me for the times I’ve not noticed others and for all the times I’ve failed to see You in those around me. Help me to stay attentive to Your presence even in people who aren’t like me. Because when I do this, I become able to love others like You love them. Amen