17th SUNDAY OF YEAR A
1Kings 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52
The theme of the first and the third readings of today is the same. The theme is: wisdom. In the old testament reading, Solomon, the last of the great kings of united Israel, is about to take over the throne. In a dream, God asks him to name any gift he wants. Instead of asking for wealth or power, Solomon asks for wisdom, so that he might rule his people well. He was given that gift, and his life story is so famous that the phrase the “wisdom of Solomon” has become a phrase known and understood in every culture. For example, we recall the story of Solomon being asked to judge which of two women is the biological mother of a child claimed by both. He took out a sword, offered to divide the child and give half to each. Immediately, the real mother revealed herself by falling to her knees and pleading for the life of the child (Cf. 1kg 3:16-28). In the third reading (Gospel), two examples are given of a man who found a treasure of incalculable value. In each case, the treasure was, of course, the kingdom of God. And each man showed wisdom by selling all he had in order to possess this great treasure. Today, Jesus offers us a gift of his wisdom.
- WHAT THEN IS WISDOM?
It is the power to judge rightly. It is the ability to take all our values in life, put them in proper order, then make correct judgments about them, based on higher values. Solomon thought of wisdom as the ability to discern right from wrong. He asked God, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (1Kg 3:9). Solomon knew that of all the decisions he would be called on to make, none can be more important than judging right from wrong. For, when we make such judgements, we are placing the kingdom of God in the first place. We are buying a treasure of great worth. We are purchasing a pearl of great price.
There are examples of wise people in sacred scripture. The prodigal son was wise. In the end, he came to realize his sinfulness and the generosity of his father. The thief crucified to the right of Christ was wise. He evaluated his brother-thief and Christ, and then he chose Christ. Mary Magdalene was wise. She anointed the feet of Jesus with precious ointment and showed that she had higher values than Judas who wanted to sell the ointment for his own personal treasury. Mary, the sister of Martha, was wise. She sat at the feet of Jesus at Bethany while Martha prepared dinner. Commenting on her wisdom, Jesus said “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:42). Wisdom, therefore, is the power to be able to stand back, look at the big picture of life, then make decisions based on what values ought to be higher in one’s life. It is the ability to put the kingdom of God in front of all other treasures.
- THE WISDOM OF JESUS
In today’s gospel, Jesus is asking us, through these two parables, “What is most important to you?” It takes a lot of WISDOM to answer this question rightly. Jesus tells us about two men who stumble upon treasures, one a farmer and the other a business man. The first man is working in the field. While working he finds a buried treasure and immediately re-buries the treasure and sells everything he has in order to purchase the land. The next story is about a merchant who was looking for pearls. In his search, he found a flawless pearl. Knowing the value of the pearl, the man sold everything he had so he could buy that pearl. Perhaps the man knew that he could re-sell the pearl for a great profit. He knew that this pearl was worth the risk he had to take. Jesus is making some simple points in these two brief stories. Let us point out what wisdom Jesus is trying to teach us.
- a) People go to great lengths to obtain what they value. In both parables the men found something of great value. They did whatever was necessary to obtain that item of value. We do the same thing very often:
- i) If we consider something to be of great value, we will go to great expenseto obtain it.For example, taking a loan in order to build a house. We will spend a lot of money to buy a gadget, for our health (travel to India) we spend without counting the cost, etc. We treasure our life and our health. It is said that, we show what we truly value by what we are willing to invest on. Our checkbook often reveals what we really value.
- ii) We also reveal our values by the time we invest. For some people, time is more valuable than money. By giving our precious time to something or someone, we show the value of that person or object. For instance, we invest many years in education; we may be willing to get up early every day in order to exercise because we value good health; and hopefully we make time for God every day because we want to build a good and strong relationship with him. Like our checkbook, our appointment book or calendar often shows what we value most.
iii) We reveal our values by the things to which we give our energy. People invest energy on their looks, their weight, and their appearance. Some put a lot of energy into being successful in their work, on their hobbies or their investments. Athletes invest energy, time and money because they value winning.
The two men in our stories showed that they considered the TREASURE and the PEARL to be valuable by the way they responded. They immediately went and sold everything they had in order to obtain the treasure. This sounds a bit as if salvation is being purchased or earned – which is not true. The Scriptures are clear that the purchase price of salvation is beyond anyone of us. The value of the kingdom of heaven is so great that everything else is worthless in comparison.
- b) If we value Christ, we will pursue him diligently: If we value a relationship with God, we will pursue it with all our energy, time and money. That is the WISDOM of God. We would show that fact by the way we live here on earth. God would become our highest priority. To this effect, Jesus tells his followers, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the other things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)
We live in a day filled with superficial spirituality. We give a “nod to God”, but that sense of commitment is lacking. We may be committed to our “church” but we are not as committed to our Saviour.
St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Phil 3:8-9)
Jesus is telling us that someone who wants to follow him ardently should consider everything else as SECONDARY (not useless) to our pursuit of a relationship with God. But, to be very candid, we are all somewhat half-hearted in our commitment. (Even Solomon, in all his wisdom, fell into many despicable sins during his royal life.) We all like to ‘conform God to our image’ rather than conform ourselves to him. The question we must ask is: “How do I move in the right direction?” The author to the Letter to the Hebrews gives us some clear instruction: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
- i) First, the Letter to the Hebrews tell us thatwe are to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that clings so closely.”In other words, we are to eliminate the things that keep us from pursuing this relationship with God. It may mean cutting back on commitments so we can have time for God; changing what we enjoy as entertainment; moving out of an environment that drags us down spiritually; repenting from behaviours such as hatred, envy and bitterness that serve as weights holding our soul back; abandoning our excuses for sinful practices and taking steps to do what is right. No sacrifice should be too great. That is WISDOM indeed!
- ii) Second, we are to “run with perseverance,” and consistency. Athletes who make it to the Olympics get there because they persevered. As Christians, we must keep going even when we do not see any results. There are times when we will feel like quitting. But we must be determined. Remember, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”
iii) Third, we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus”. This is the “HOW” of perseverance. For the Christian, we are to focus on Christ. If we can remember who we are serving, what he has done for us, and where he is leading us, then we discover the third aspect of the wisdom of Jesus:
- c) We must pursue what we value out of Joy and not out of Obligation. It is worth taking note of the spirit in which those two men pursued their treasures! In the first parable, we are told that the man went joyfully and sold all he had so he could buy the property. It seems the second man quickly went and sold all he had. They did not act out of a sense of drudgery. There is no dragging of feet here! They joyfully and eagerly sold everything so they might obtain the object of their desire. A parent would go any length to save the life of his/her child: donate blood, or even donate one of his/her kidneys. They would risk their own lives willingly, eagerly, and joyfully, with no resentment when it comes to helping their children because they consider them to be their greatest treasure. This, too, is wisdom indeed!
It is note to note that these two men “discovered” the treasures differently. The first man found the treasure BY SURPRISE, by accident. The second man was diligently SEARCHING FOR his treasure. It is the same way in our relationship with Christ. Some people search for God. They examine the facts, they try different religions, and they engage in religious disciplines in the hope of finding God. Other people seem to be surprised by God’s grace. Like the apostle Paul, all of sudden these people feel like someone turned on a light. It does not matter how we find the treasure; what matters is that we lay hold of that treasure once we find it. It does not matter whether we searched for the Lord or whether we just bumped into him one day by some dramatic conversion experience. What matters is realizing that living in God’s Kingdom, possessing eternal life, and walking with Jesus is the greatest treasure we will ever find.
It is also important that we understand that God calls us to radical commitment. He is not concerned about getting more people to join his church. He wants more people who are willing to trust and follow him, place their faith, their confidence and their lives in his hands. God is asking us to trust his wisdom in our day to day lives, just as Solomon did. He wants us to see life from his (God’s) point of view. Such wisdom guides us to avoid the futile, purposeless, silly, and misguided things that people do in order to “make a living”. We pray that God’s wisdom leads us to choose “living good” over and above just “making a living”.