Friend or foe? Who’s to know?

Recently, the daily Mass readings brought together Our Lord’s teaching on love of enemies in the Sermon on the Mount with the Old Testament story of King Ahab, his wife Jezebel, Naboth of Jezreel, and the Prophet Elijah (11th Week of Ordinary Time, Monday, and Tuesday).  
Reflecting on the link between the readings led me to reflect on the relationship between being someone’s friend and being their enemy.  It seems to me that much of our thinking and discussion on the challenge of Jesus tends to focus on the ‘love’ aspect of this command.  For example, the distinction between ‘liking’ and ‘loving,’ between love as feeling, and love as decision or act of the will.  
But what about the concept of ‘enemy?’  Surely, we must be able to identify our enemies before we can make the effort either to love or hate them?  And I am not sure that the idea of enemy is totally clear.  In fact, I want to suggest in this reflection, with examples from Scripture, that the boundary between enemies and friends can be quite unclear at times!
Take that story from the life of Elijah just mentioned (I Kings 21:1-29).  A man called Naboth has a vineyard close to the palace of King Ahab and the king has his eye on it.  The story begins in a very ordinary, innocent way, with the king offering to buy it from his neighbour or exchange it for another (better) plot further away from the palace.  
You can hardly blame a king for wanting a bit of privacy, can you?  But Naboth won’t budge.  It’s not that he is stubborn or hostile to authority; the vineyard has been handed down for generations from his ancestors and Naboth feels bound to hand it on to his descendants in turn.  
He doesn’t see the land as his property to do with it what he likes.  It is held in trust for the next generation, and he is simply its current steward, looking after it for posterity.  
King Ahab is not pleased and goes off in a sulk, like a petulant child.  But his wicked wife, Jezebel, takes over.  She despises his weakness and will show him how a true king should operate.  
So, she arranges to frame Naboth for the alleged crime of cursing God and the King, using corrupt officials in Naboth’s village.  He is found guilty, stoned to death, and now the way is open for the King to get his wish. 
You can easily blame Jezebel for all these sins of bearing false witness, murder, and theft, but “the buck stops with Ahab” and God is not going to let him off the hook.  
So, Elijah is ordered to confront Ahab in the very place which has caused all the fuss.  Ahab, puts his hands up, addressing the prophet as “his enemy” (1 Kg:20 – “So you have caught me, oh my enemy!”) and then must listen to Elijah pronouncing God’s disastrous punishment for his crimes.  
Thus, we celebrate God’s justice, vindicating the little man, the victim of abuse of power.  But then comes the twist in the tale!  Ahab repents in an extravagant way, in sackcloth and ashes, and God, recognising his humility, relents and decides not to punish the king at this stage.  But its sentence is only suspended, for punishment will come in the next generation!
What strikes me from this story is how Ahab sees Elijah as his ‘enemy’ bringing him harm.  That is a natural reaction.  But in fact, looking deeper into this situation, we might say that Elijah is his ‘friend,’ calling him to account, bringing him to repent as the agent of God’s mercy, as well as His justice.  
Isn’t it a matter of common experience that our friends can challenge us in painful ways when we need it, while we in our subjective experience wonder why a friend has become an enemy?
But there is also another potential friend in this story, and that is Naboth himself!  One can see an element of symbolism in the story of a vineyard being cared for by a steward, for in the Bible Israel is often seen as God’s vineyard given over to kings as his stewards minding an inheritance.  
The kings are supposed to encourage the people to keep God’s commandments and to give good example themselves.  But in this story, it is the King who is the utter failure while the good man, Naboth, is the true model of the righteous king.  
One could say that Naboth, too, is Ahab’s ‘friend’ in pointing out to him that his whim to own a convenient plot of land can never justify the evil he and his wife have committed.  Naboth is the one who has the true sense of value, not Ahab, and his blood speaks from the grave challenging the king to repent and act as a true king of Israel.
The ambiguity in the relationship between friend and enemy is to be found in the New Testament too, of course.  Take as an example the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37). 
The man who is mugged nearly to death, experiences the typical harm from enemies.  But if we assume he is a Jewish traveller, then one would expect the Priest and Levite passing along to act as his friends, stopping to help him in his time of need.  
But it is quite the opposite, as they pass by on the opposite side of the road, “keeping a wide berth,” as they say.  Supposed friends act as enemies.  But the only one to help him is in fact an enemy, as the Samaritans were despised by Jews and vice versa.  So, the enemy becomes a friend, while the friends become enemies.  
Similar challenges to the stereotypes common to the culture of Jesus’s day are seen in the story of the Centurion (Lk 7:1-10), an enemy of Israel, being praised by Jesus for his great faith when he recognises the authority of the Lord in asking for his servant to be healed.  Once again, the supposed enemy becomes a friend!
And then, what about the examples of Judas and Peter, so called friends of Jesus, who betray him in his hour of need.  Have they not become his enemies, at least for a time in the case of Peter?
I hope I have shown that the categories of enemy and friend, as portrayed in Scripture, are far from being clear and distinct, as people move from one to the other depending on the situation and where the people we label as ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’ turn out to be quite the opposite.
The ultimate example is Jesus himself, the enemy of Israel according to the religious authorities of his day, but in fact their greatest friend as their saviour and redeemer. 
If there is one message, I take from all this, it is that distinguishing friends from enemies is a hazardous business, so we must love all as the heavenly Father does, loving good and bad alike “… so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good” (Mt 5:45)! 
Kieran ofm