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And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

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Early in Jesus’ ministry, when he felt that his disciples were ready to head out and do some work on their own without his being present, he described various positive and negative situations they might encounter while trying to share the good news of God’s love with strangers.  The advice Jesus gave them on how to determine who is really interested in what they’re saying and, in contrast, who will be tossing them out of their homes in mid-sentence applies in a sense to knowing the difference between enemies and friends. Sometimes, we know that someone is an enemy the first time we meet them; there are people who have hated my guts, in churches too, the first time they saw me, and that view never changed.  Conversely, thankfully, there are those who saw me as friendship material from the first handshake on, and they have remained my friends from then on, until this very moment in time. Most of the time, though, enemies or friends develop over time; it could go either way, or it could be one way for a while and then quickly change to the other way. Jesus told his disciples that when they didn’t know whether the people to whom they talked would end up on the “friend” list or the “enemy” list to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” On the one hand, I can’t be gullible and live imagining that everyone I know or meet is going to be my friend.  On the other hand, though, there’s something of a risk I have to take to allow for the possibility of friendship; I have to become vulnerable.  I have to be open about my willingness to share friendship even if the response from the other person hurts me because she or he chooses to be my enemy rather than my friend. I still don’t think that’s as hard as seeing someone as your friend for a while, maybe even for years, and then suddenly she or he is an enemy.  In reality, that transition probably didn’t happen suddenly at all; it was probably working in that new direction for some time, but our knowledge of it still may be sudden and shocking.  It can jolt us emotionally to discover from our point of view that someone whom we thought of this morning as a friend is an enemy.  How quickly and how crushing an enemy. At least it’s easy to know what to do once we know where we stand, right? Well, not necessarily, and Jesus doesn’t help us out in terms of how we believe an enemy is to be treated in this world.  What he describes is something he managed, but we don’t see outselves as up to Jesus’ standards though he clearly thought his followers could do everything he did and more; so, he preached in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your God in heaven; for God makes God’s sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your God is perfect.” OK, sure.  Fine.  That takes care of it, right?  Doesn’t matter if someone is an enemy or a friend, they get the love treatment.  Again, that’s fine for Jesus, but, really, do you think I’m going to be praying for my enemies and wishing all of them well in all of their endeavors?  I mean, one of their endeavors is to do me in, in some kind of way.  How can I endorse that? Jesus did not retaliate when an enemy did something hurtful to him.  He did get aggressive verbally, and in one case physically, with those who were enemies to others, those who were hurting others–namely, the ultra religious who had made themselves enemies to all who didn’t measure up to their self- standards.   The experience was reversed in Jesus’ experience.  Indeed, he never suddenly became someone’s enemy and turned on that person, but that happened to him on a number of occasions–most notably with his disciple, Peter, the one who’d proclaimed his love and devotion for Jesus more loudly and more widely than any of the others.  Still when Jesus was taken into custody by the Romans for probable execution, who was the first to say, “I have no idea who that man is.  I’ve never seen him before in my life”?  It was Peter. Some might want to say that Judas suddenly became the enemy of his rabbi, but that isn’t the case.  Judas was never an enemy of Jesus and never ashamed that he was connected to the Jesus Movement.  Judas was terribly confused, and what he did made it a little easier for the Romans to get Jesus’ pretense of a trial underway; but Judas kissed Jesus in the seeing of a group of soldiers working for the handful of Jewish higherups who detested Jesus.  Never imagine that it was a hoard of Jews who disliked Jesus and wanted him dead; it was a very few.  Most Jews in Jesus’ day had no idea who he was, never heard of him. This is why Judas had to kiss Jesus in the presence of the small group of soldiers in service to the Jewish high priest; presumably those soldiers also were Jews, and none of them knew who Jesus was.  The higherups and their spies knew who he was, but the rank and file Jew did not.  Judas gets Jesus to the Jewish high priest who, then, gets him into the hands of the Romans.  Judas thought if he could get Jesus cornered by the right people, he’d come out swinging and become the militaristic messiah most of the Jews who actually looked for a messiah, of which Judas was one, expected and wanted.  Judas, though, was not Jesus’ enemy.  He was in no way ashamed of Jesus or ashamed to be associated with Jesus. He believed in Jesus’ potential more than any of the others who claimed to be his faithful followers.  He’d have stood with Jesus to the end had he, Judas, not become so overwhelmed at the magnitude of his failure as friend and follower of Jesus that he killed himself before Calvary was in clear view.

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1 Sara Di Diego = "This is from Matthew 5:43-48."