by Br Julian McDonald cfc
God said to Solomon: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”. Solomon replied: “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” 1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…a merchant searching for fine pearls…a net thrown into the sea…” Matthew 13, 44-52
In today’s gospel reading, we are offered three more parables. The first two, the parables of the buried treasure and the pearl, highlight, at one level, the need for disciples to be totally attached to Jesus and his message, and detached from whatever gets in the way of our Christian commitment. The parable of the net cast into the sea is a reminder to us to seek the things of God, camouflaged in the clutter of life. In encouraging us to be builders of God’s kingdom in our world, Jesus reaches for parables and illustrations that capture his experience of God’s presence and action in the world. Perhaps we can only hope that his comparisons about God’s final judgement limp a little.
However, I would like to suggest that we try to look through the eyes of Jesus at the parable of the treasure buried in a field. For starters, Jesus would see exactly what everyone else looking at a field sees: soil, grass, weeds, litter. But he knows that underneath the surface, under the dirt and grime and weeds, there lies a treasure – you and I and all the people around us. So he gives away all he has, including his divine connections, comes down to our level and invests his energy, his talents and his life in buying the treasure that is us. We are so precious that Jesus spends all he has and is to bring us to himself. The parable of the merchant buying the precious pearl carries a similar message. From these two parables we can conclude that Jesus is our biggest fan.
I also want to suggest that there is something to be gained from delving into today’s first reading about Solomon. If we can acquire even a little of his wisdom, we might not be in a rush to judge others. The writer of this story makes it clear that Solomon’s wisdom was at work in a social context: “I serve you, God, in the midst of the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.” This is a reminder to us that we must always see our faith development in conjunction with the faith development of all those around us. If we really looked at ourselves and the people around us, all of us with our complex personalities and behaviours, our fears and our emotional upheavals, we might moderate our views of God’s final judgement, and be a little less hasty to want to separate the “weeds” from the “wheat”.
It is telling that Solomon asks God for wisdom, for an understanding heart to distinguish right from wrong. In the years that have elapsed since Solomon’s time, the bearers of wisdom have come to appreciate that it is over-simplistic to view people and their actions in terms of right and wrong, black and white. We all know that there are shades of grey between black and white, and gradations between right and wrong. Yet, we still fall into the trap of categorizing others as traditionalists or radicals, as liberals or conservatives, as leftist or rightist. Over and over, we slip into articulating our political, social, cultural and, even, theological realities and concepts in exclusive ways. Such discrete categorization is a neat way of avoiding the difficult and complex work of discovering subtle differences and modulations in the views and opinions of the people with whom we engage. Crude categorisations of others and their views imply that we engage with our world as spectators rather than as participants.
Reflection on our own lives as individuals, as members of communities and groups, and as citizens of nations demonstrates that what we have become is considerably more than an accumulation of right and wrong decisions or the result of participation in liberal or conservative social, religious and political groups.
We live in a world gripped by fear, a world that seems over hasty to separate terrorists from pacifists, radicalized from those who are “middle-of-the-road. Yet, it’s a world in which some have become extremely wealthy through injustice, exploitation and violence, while others have become destroyed by those very same practices. Somehow, we have to learn from engaging with one another around our various histories – histories of our family of origin, of our local communities, of our nation – and exploring how those histories interconnect with our economic, cultural, political, geographic and military histories. We have all been touched by these various histories and, along the way, some of us have been advantaged by them, others impeded by them, and others still, strangled and impoverished by them.
This is not easy work leading to simple solutions. It is work that calls for patience, insight and creativity; work that ultimately calls us to strive to change some of the social, economic and political structures that obstruct freedom, self-determination and the common good.
Discipleship of Jesus demands that we challenge and work to dismantle structures that enslave people and systems built on the accumulation of power and wealth through injustice, violence and destruction. The irony, of course, is that working for justice, challenging unjust structures, advocating for refugees and collaborating with those made poor will attract labels like radical, liberal. Solomon looked at the legacy he had inherited from his father, David, reflected on its implications for his people, and responded by asking God for wisdom. We could do a lot worse than to imitate Solomon.