Online workplace environments and chat room are the favorite hideouts of frenemies. Columnist Walter Winchell coined that term in the 1950s when referring to the Russians, but if Jesus had spoken English, he might have come up with it first. He was surrounded by frenemies. Some were disciples.
A frenemy is a person whose friendship is ambivalent—polite in the right situations but antagonistic when fear or selfishness take over. Jesus included this personality type in his parable of The Two Sons. One son refuses his father’s command–to his face—but has a subsequent change of heart and obeys. The other son tells dad he will do what he says, but ends up disobeying.
Jesus asks the chief priests and elders (Jesus’s closest frenemies), “Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus replies, “That explains why tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!”
Saul of Tarsus was not a frenemy. He was a full-fledged enemy of Christians. However, his Road-to-Damascus conversion put him on the road to the Kingdom with those other converts Jesus mentioned. That didn’t dampen his fearsome reputation in the minds of Christ’s disciples, though. It might have even formed a virtual neon sign flashing the Hebrew equivalent of “FRENEMY” over Paul’s head when he approached them about joining their ministry.
As Sunday’s first reading tells us (Acts 9:26-31), it took a mutual friend (Barnabas) to disable that warning sign, assuring them that the risen Master had even spoken to Saul, converting him into Paul—one of Christianity’s most passionate defenders.
Paul became the personification of Jesus’s definition of a loving friend: one who would lay down his life for you. And as John teaches us in Sunday’s second reading (1 Jn 3:18-24), friends like that live their love.
Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. … Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.
Among the disciples, John was Jesus’s closest friend, and in Sunday’s reading from John’s gospel (Jn 15:1-8), we can see how Jesus’s quote may have stuck with his favorite disciple:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Yet, when the chips were down, Peter denied Jesus, Thomas doubted him, and Judas betrayed him. All of them slept through his agony in the garden. Their Road-to-Damascus-like conversion from frenemy to full-fledged friend began at the tomb of their Master. It’s the same route leading to God’s Kingdom—the one and only piece of infrastructure ever fully paid-for.