Seventeenth Sunday In Ordinary Time – a reflection on the Sunday readings

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. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” 1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12

If there is anything we learn from today’s readings, it is that everything comes at a cost. In today’s first reading from Kings, we hear the story of how Solomon, responding to God’s invitation to ask for what he wanted, chose the gift of wisdom. However, just like every human being before and after him, Solomon allowed human weakness to get in the way. His weakness for concubines and his longing to accumulate wealth and weapons of war prevented him from using the wisdom God had given him. Whatever our gifts, and we all have them, it is important that we use them with integrity and enduring commitment. Solomon displayed admirable selflessness in asking God to give him the wisdom he needed to govern his people, but, with tragic consequences, he allowed self-interest to get in the way.

The readings of the last few Sundays, and again today, have given us a succession of Jesus’ parables in which he imagines a world governed and guided by the values of God; a world in which people actually practice mercy, forgiveness, equality, sharing food and universal access to safe shelter, clean water and sanitation; a world in which people enjoy freedom and treat one another with respect and dignity. Yet, we’ve heard these parables so often that they don’t fire us up to pursue that kind of a world with commitment and passion. We say we believe in freedom and dignity and equality and compassion and reconciliation and justice, but somehow we cannot bring ourselves to pay the price required to invest ourselves in pursing the things to which we give only nominal assent. We say we believe in what Jesus proclaims but we lack the passion, energy and drive to make it happen. We just can’t bring ourselves to imitate the person who stumbled on the treasure in the field or the jeweller who came across the flawless pearl to sell up everything to purchase what they discovered. A world in which God’s values hold sway just doesn’t look attractive enough; it doesn’t capture our imaginations. Moreover the cost for such a way of living is beyond what we’re prepared to pay.

Many of us, I’m sure, have heard the story of the group of teenage boys who had come together to celebrate the birthday of one of their number. After the party, they decided to play football in the back yard. There was a bit of rough and tumble until the birthday boy lost one of his contact lenses in the grass. The game came to a sudden halt, and they were soon all down on their hands and knees searching for the lens. After five or six minutes, the lens had not been located, so the boy who had lost it went and told his mother the bad news. She immediately began her own search in the grass, and, within a few minutes, found the missing lens. “Mum, how come you found it in no time, when the five of us had no success at all?” asked the lad whose lens had been dislodged. “Because we weren’t looking for the same thing”, his mother replied. “You were looking for a small, round, clear piece of plastic. I was searching for $300!”

All three of today’s parables are about perspectives and priorities and the urgency with which we approach them. Jesus is inviting us to unclutter our lives, to readjust our priorities and to put the things of God at the top of our list. Therein lies the kind of wisdom that is at the focus of today’s first reading. In fact, Job described that kind of wisdom as more valuable than any amount of flawless pearls and precious stones:
“Wisdom can’t be bought with the finest gold; no amount of silver can get it. Even famous Ophir gold can’t buy it, nor even diamonds and sapphires. Neither gold nor emeralds are comparable; extravagant jewellery can’t touch it. Pearl necklaces and ruby bracelets – why bother? None of this is even a down payment on Wisdom!” (Job 28, 13-18).

Wisdom helps us to distinguish what is of lasting value for our lives and what is simply attractive on the surface but lacking in substance (the parable of the dragnet). But wisdom has to be accompanied by faithful commitment and adherence to the agenda of Jesus and his Gospel.

By accepting the agenda of Jesus we grow into putting ourselves second, and giving our attention to the people and values that were at the centre of Jesus’ life – the needy, the lonely, the forgotten, the neglected, and we invest our energy in making sure that mercy, compassion, justice and reconciliation are central to the way in which we live and act. But there is a price to be paid for choosing to live like that.