What is Friendship with Jesus?

(Homily 23rd Sunday, Year B)

I remember someone talking to me about how he views Jesus as his friend, his best friend. Great, I thought, he has grasped the fundamental truth of our faith. Still a suspicion rose inside me. To make sure I was not harshly judging him I asked, “well, I imagine you spend a lot of time with Jesus?”

“Yes, he is with me every moment.”

Wishing to get more specific I asked, “How much time do you spend in prayer? Mass, maybe a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, prayer by yourself or with other people?”

“Oh, I don’t need all those rituals,” he clarified. “I just know Jesus always accepts me, no matter what.”

As the conversation proceeded, it became clear Jesus did not impinge on his life in any significant way. He mainly served as an image to bolster the man’s self-esteem, but in an odd way - by assuring him nothing makes any final difference. And they did not reach the heart of friendship: to spend time, a lot of time, talking and listening to each other.

This Sunday Jesus performs a miracle relating to those human faculties. He separates a deaf mute from the crowd, spits to make a rough and ready ointment, as he touches the mouth and ears.

We consider hearing and speech such good things, we do not appreciate the risk Jesus took. After all, what do people mainly hear? Distortions, even outright lies. We do not long to hear good things about others. Suppose I announce that on Wednesday evening I am going to spend two hours telling about all the good things Fr. X has done. I could probably hold the meeting in a storage closet. But imagine I say there have been rumors about Fr. X weaving out of a tavern with a blond on his arm and on Wednesday evening I am holding a meeting to get to the bottom of the accusations. I better reserve the school auditorium.

We do not use our hearing well. The same applies to speech. Even tho we are capable of saying good things and making beautiful sounds, nevertheless a few ill-spoken words can destroy a life-long relationship. Jesus knew it was a risk to restore a man's ears and tongue, yet he felt it worth taking. Not because we human beings are so great. No, the dividend on the risky investment is that we might hear even one word from the God-man.

We have such a word in today’s Gospel. So precious it has been preserved in the original language of Jesus. Ephphatha, that is, "Be opened." (Mk 7:34) We might ask how such a word came down to us. The answer is clear. It was the first sound the deaf man ever heard and he treasured it in his heart. (See Lk 2:51) When the crowd rushed to find out what happened, they must have asked what Jesus told him. The man repeated, “Ephphatha.”

Jesus restored hearing and speech to underscore the sine qua non of the Christian life - prayer. A journalist once asked Pope John Paul what prayer is. The Holy Father did not give a theological discourse. He replied simply, “conversation with God.”

For the pope that is not a pious phrase. Reading Witness to Hope, what struck me most forcefully is how much time the Holy Father spends in formal prayer. Besides daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, he makes a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament and says at least one, sometimes several rosaries as well as weekly devotions like the Way of the Cross and confession. Don’t tell me you are too busy to pray!

Arguably the pope has more responsibility on his shoulders than any other person on the planet, yet he finds much time to listen to and talk with Jesus. Remind me of these words when I whine about having so many things to do that I just can’t get in my prayers. I know if a friend shows up, someone I really want to talk to, I do find the time. And Jesus is my best friend - and yours.

A saint who illustrates the importance of listening to Jesus is Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps the greatest intellect in Christian history, he synthesized Greek philosophy, Arabic science, Jewish wisdom with twelve centuries of Christian tradition. Toward the end of his life he came out of the chapel badly shaken. He told his brothers to burn his books because they were as straw compared to what Jesus had just revealed to him. Fortunately we still have his writings which in comparison to any modern book are like twice refined gold. But still Thomas' vision teaches a great truth. Like the deaf mute, the greatest treasure is to hear a single word from Jesus. Ephphatha, that is, "Be Opened."

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From Archives (Homilies for 23rd Sunday, Year B):

2012: A Work of Liberation
2009: Hearing his Voice
2006: The March of Folly
2003: Lord, Cleanse My Lips
2000: What is Friendship with Jesus?
1997: Real vs. Imaginary Jesus

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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