JULY 30TH, 2017: SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.
God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you."
"O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king
to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"
The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him:
"Because you have asked for this—
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches,
nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right—
I do as you requested.
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now,
and after you there will come no one to equal you."
Brothers and sisters:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers and sisters.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea,
which collects fish of every kind.
When it is full they haul it ashore
and sit down to put what is good into buckets.
What is bad they throw away.
Thus it will be at the end of the age.
The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
"Do you understand all these things?"
They answered, "Yes."
And he replied,
"Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven
is like the head of a household
who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."
Author and speaker John Shea frequently reminds his audiences that the historical Jesus’ ministry revolved around three questions. What do you want out of life? Where do you get it? How much does it cost?
This Galilean carpenter certainly wasn’t the first biblical person to get involved with those three topics.
In our I Kings passage, Yahweh asks Solomon what he wants out of life. Surprisingly the king responds, “Give your servant an understanding heart.” Should Yahweh have problems with the term, Solomon quickly defines such a heart. It’s the ability “to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”
Scholars who deal with biblical Wisdom Literature – Psalms, Proverbs, etc. – contend that those with understanding hearts are wise in the scriptural sense. They can perceive God at work in their world, and know how they should respond to his/her presence. Three thousand years ago, our sacred authors believed people thought not with their brains, but with their hearts. (Their emotions, on the other hand, originated in their kidneys, not their hearts. That’s why, for instance, lovers referred to one another as my “sweet kidney” and gave kidney shaped boxes of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.) Truly wise persons have geared their hearts to think the way Yahweh wants and expects them to think.
In some sense, that’s how the evangelist Matthew conceives of himself. He actually shares an Alfred Hitchcock moment with us in today’s pericope. Just as the famous director suddenly shows up in almost all his movies, so Matthew shows up in his gospel. He’s the “. . . scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven . . . the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”
As a good Jew, his storeroom of faith overflows with the “old,” as a good follower of Jesus, he’s also involved with the “new,” constantly experiencing the “kingdom of heaven” in his everyday life. Finding the risen Jesus working effectively in all he does and everyone he encounters can only be compared to discovering a buried treasure or coming upon a pearl of great price. Both fulfill the dreams of a lifetime.
Yet even when we eventually surface that “thing” for which we’ve spent our lives searching, we still have to deal with the price for acquiring it. Paul pulls no punches when it comes to the cost. In today’s second reading, he reminds the church in Rome that we have to be “. . . conformed to the image of God’s Son.” In other words, in order to be “justified,” we must become other Christs. That’s the only way we can be certain we’re doing what God wants us to do, that we actually have an understanding heart. Though we believe “all things work for good for those who love God,” that only happens to those who give themselves over to dying and rising with Jesus – the price God demands.
Among other things, that means we have to commit ourselves to working with a “mixed net;” we can’t just work with those who, like us, are trying to do what God expects us to do. But we’re not only to just work with the “wicked,” we’re to constantly give ourselves to them. It doesn’t matter if our love is returned or rejected, it must always be given. That’s part of the cost of conforming ourselves to the image of God’s Son.
Obviously paying such a price isn’t something we take care of once a lifetime, then forget about it. We not only pay it every day, we discover it changes every day. On the other hand, we also discover a new treasure every day, a constantly changing treasure.