The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
1 Kings 3:5,7-12 + Romans 8:28-30 + Matthew 13:44-52
Ten centuries before Christ, the son of David became the King of Israel. Solomon was a young man; he realized his lack of experience and his lack of ability to govern Israel. The Lord told him to ask for any gift, and it would be granted.
Solomon could have asked for wealth, since after all, with all the wealth in the world he could buy off any kingdom who got in his way. Or he could have asked for absolute power, since he could then destroy any kingdom which got in his way. He could have asked for any number of things. But he asked for wisdom.
Wisdom is insight into the meaning of all things. Wisdom shows how everything fits together and has its place. The Old Testament has seven books which are called the “Wisdom Literature” (which, incidentally, are some of the best books of the Bible for spiritual reading). The Wisdom of Israel, of our own Jewish heritage, was unlike the wisdom taught by many ancient cultures, and is also unlike the “conventional wisdom” which our society runs according to today.
The Wisdom of Israel isn’t based on self-interest or self-promotion. It is founded upon nothing and no one other than God Himself. If God is part of our lives, then even if our life seems a puzzle, we have reason to hope, even when our eyes and ears tell us differently. It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand every piece of the puzzle. God teaches us, over time, to move this piece of the puzzle over here, and that piece there; and in time, we can see emerge the picture God has had in His Mind all along.
The wise man doesn’t rely on his own powers. He is willing to place his hope in an other.
* * * * * * * * * *
There was an old lady in Scotland who was so poor that the community had to support her, even though her son had left her, gone off to America, and become very wealthy. The neighbors often whispered to each other, “Why doesn’t John help his old mother?”
One day a neighbor dropped in and suggested that her son would surely help her if he knew of her need. Mother-like, she defended her son: “Oh, John is so thoughtful, but he needs all money. He provides for me. He’s a good boy. See, he writes to me every month the nicest letters. And with every letter he sends me postcards of scenes and people from America.”
“Have you saved them?” asked the neighbor. “Oh sure,” replied the mother, as she reached for her Bible. “I save all his letters and put the postcards in the Good Book.”
Between the leaves of the Bible the visitors indeed found these “postcards” with pictures of various scenes from the United States: there was one with a picture of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and others had pictures of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Treasury, and the Lincoln Memorial. On the other sides of the “postcards” were pictures of people from America, such as Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Alexander Hamilton, and Abraham Lincoln. Between the leaves of this mother’s bible, these “postcards” were in fact American currency worth hundreds of dollars, more than enough to assist the old woman with her needs. She had a treasure but did not know it; she had hope but did not seek the object of her hope.
* * * * * * * * * *
We treasure many things in life, but our lives are so often crowded by the things that WE hope for that we fail to see and realize that God planted a treasure in us from the first moments of our existence: the human soul. Unfortunately, the human soul doesn’t appear attractive right off the bat. It’s not red and shiny, it doesn’t glitter, it doesn’t make a soothing noise that draws us to it. The greatness of the human soul is its capacity: that the human soul--- unlike anything that is material such as a car, or gold, or our favorite music--- can be filled with God’s grace.
St. Augustine cried out to God that our souls are restless, until they rest in Him. We spend years of our lives hoping and craving for all sorts of material pleasures, and if we were very smart, we would learn from experience after experience over many years that nothing finite can satisfy infinitely.
If any of you have seen the movie “Shadowlands,” you are familiar with the person of C. S. Lewis, who was a gifted lecturer and writer. God gave him many gifts. But the greatest gift he was given in his life was love. Lewis wrote about how fortunate we Christians are to be given the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom, and specifically, to recognize that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger,” he says, “[and] there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim, [and] there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire, [and] there is such a thing as sex.” And so, Lewis concludes, “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The human soul is so great because it can be open to receiving God’s grace. It’s a lot like the greatest things in human life. The best things in life aren’t simply material things that we can obtain and possess. The best things in life are those things that we cannot force, things that emerge over time, like a love between two persons which grows into selfless love, or like the life of a child who grows into a mature adult, or even the best sort of human talents which develop over time to show the beauty and spirit of humanity. I’m sure that as many of you have watched the Olympics over the past several days you’ve been awed by the talents of athletes, and even felt pride when an American athlete wins a gold medal and stands during the National Anthem. Our pride and admiration is aroused when we see that gold medal, and hear that simple melody, but those things represent years FULL on tireless effort, hours after hours of practice spent perfecting their athletic abilities and their mental concentration. Olympians don’t just hope that they’re going to receive a medal. They work tirelessly to allow their gifts to shine through their human weakness.
The spiritual life requires no less of us than Olympic competition. God does not simply pour grace into our souls in the same way that we pour gasoline into a car. We are not machines. We, as humans created in God’s image, have to consciously CHOOSE to devote ourselves to the development of our souls, day after day, through every hour of the day, whether we’re attending to the needs of family, carrying out the responsibilities of a job, or simply praying on our knees, in order to allow God’s grace to shine through in our lives.
Everything we do in our lives has to be oriented towards that treasure of grace, that share in God’s life. When a laborer in his workspace puts up pictures of his spouse and children, he’s seeking to remind himself that his labor isn’t just about getting a job done--- it’s about supporting a family, whom he both loves for their own sake, and whom he sees as a sign of the wider community which he contributes to through his labors. Wisdom recognizes that the purpose of love is to bring life to an other.
There was a boy who prayed to God every night for the same thing: “God,” he prayed, “make me absolutely the best basketball player in the entire world.” Well, God answered that boy’s wish: God made him absolutely the best basketball player in the world, and put him on the Olympic Dream Team, and the boy was bored out of his mind. Absolute power doesn’t only corrupt absolutely, it also bored absolutely. There is no pleasure to be had in absolute power, absolute wealth, or absolute anything--- unless it’s used for an other. St. Paul in one of the best known passages of Scripture, preaches that no matter what we do, if we do not do it out of love for an other, it does no good. God knows this. God is infinitely powerful, and infinitely knowledgeable. God had everything possible within Himself, and yet what did He do? He created the world, giving us a possibility to share in his love. When we fell, God the Father gave us His Only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. And to save us from our sins, what did Christ spend His life on in this world? He did what he makes present here on this altar: he sacrificed His Life for us, because He was infinitely wise.