The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometime in the 17th century, the poet Richard Baxter described a common experience when he wrote:
They want not friends that have thy love, And may converse and walk with thee, And with thy saints here and above, With whom forever I must be.
His experience was that God first loved him, and invited him to deeper friendship with him. When he responded by trying to rid himself of every obstacle to God’s love, he discovered that not only was God his friend, but all the friends of God became his friends, both on earth and in heaven: “thy saints here and above”, as he calls them.
The author of the book of Wisdom had a similar experience. I prayed, he wrote, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I deemed riches nothing in comparison with her… Beyond health and comeliness I loved her. All good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands. Because the author set his heart on wisdom and not on riches, he discovered that not only did wisdom come to him, but wisdom came accompanied by all good things, and by all the friends of wisdom. He discovered a spiritual richness that was beyond physical health provided by the best medical care.
In the Gospel, a wealthy man comes up to Jesus, who is Wisdom incarnate, and asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looked at him and loved him, and told him that only his riches stood between him and God. Faced with a choice between his riches and the friendship of God, the wealthy man turned away from the crowd of Jesus and his disciples and went away sad. We are not told that anyone went with him.
The focus in this Gospel is not so much on the man or his wealth, but on the phrase, All things are possible for God. God never gives up inviting us to deeper friendship with him, and we can get some idea of our response by asking ourselves how much we live our life in his presence, how often we think of him outside of church, how much we share our life experiences with him, as friends do.
If there is something cold or distant about our relationship, it may be because no creature is concealed from him, and he sees something in our heart that we love more than him, whether it is riches or family or whatever. We can continue to love that, and then, when we must give an account of ourselves, we will have to turn away sad and lonely, like the man in the Gospel.
Or we can act on our conviction that friendship with God means more to us than anything in the world. We can leave everything that comes between us and God, and make the solitary choice to follow Jesus. The choice is solitary, but the result is not. At once we discover that because Jesus is our best friend, he is not our only friend. He comes accompanied by his saints here and above, who have made the same choice.
All along our journey with Jesus, we will encounter others who have also given up house or family or lands for his sake and for the sake of the Gospel. These are people who will love us and whom we may love, who will help us forward and console us on the way. For the love of Jesus is a secret gift which binds together all his friends, and each one can say with the poet:
The heavenly hosts, world without end, Shall be my company above; And thou, my best and surest Friend, Who shall divide me from thy love?