The Judgment of Solomon from the pilgrimage church of Frauenberg in Styria, Austria. Photo from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Wisdom can never be taken for granted

  • July 19, 2020

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26 (Year A) 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52

Imagine that we were offered the granting of one wish. This has been a familiar theme in folklore and legends, and people amuse themselves by thinking of all the possibilities — something like winning the lottery.

What would we wish for? The answer to that probably says a lot about us. God made that offer to Solomon with startling and edifying results. Solomon remembered all of God’s kindnesses, blessings and fidelity towards his father David and to him personally. Most importantly, he was immensely grateful.

Often people have short memories when it comes to counting the blessings they have received. The response becomes “But what have you done for me lately?”

Solomon could have easily lunged for all that glittered — wealth, power, reputation, long life and possessions. But he did not — he thoughtfully asked for just one thing. Acutely aware of his youth and inexperience, he asked only for wisdom — the ability to discern right and wrong. He wanted to rule his people wisely and justly.

Solomon’s request pleased God, who granted his wish. Solomon became the symbol of wisdom for centuries to come. Many of the psalms and proverbs were attributed to him, although his authorship is unlikely. Unfortunately, Solomon’s devotion to wisdom slipped a bit later in his reign and he tolerated the growth of idolatry in his kingdom.

Wisdom has to be cultivated and nourished; it can never be taken for granted. The ability to choose rightly and justly is sorely needed in our time.

Many are convinced that they have nothing to learn — they already know all that is necessary. But the first step to gaining wisdom is the admission of one’s limitations and ignorance, and openness to growing and learning.

Wisdom is not factual knowledge — it is the ability to live in a life-giving and holy way in a confusing and challenging world.

The world can be challenging and overwhelming, and we are not always wise. Our journey to God might seem to be a mirage as we survey our mistakes and wrong turns. Romans is reassuring — God has our back and has already blazed a path for us. We need but love God; perfection is not required.

We should not think of predestination as an elite shortlist or a guessing game. Love is what qualifies us for this gift, and God has prepared the way by calling us and conforming us to the image of Jesus.

This does not mean an easy or pain-free life, but everything works for our good when we love God and seek God’s face.

The kingdom of God is not a thing or a place and, contrary to opinion, we do not build it. Jesus resorted to simile and metaphor to describe it as the transformation of the heart, mind and soul. It is like a buried treasure, but we do not have the right to simply help ourselves.

The man in the parable had to obtain the right to it by sacrificing what he already had. It is also like an incredibly valuable pearl. The merchant had to sell everything to obtain it.

It is like a net that drags in all sorts of things. The valuable is mixed with the worthless, which has to be sorted out and discarded.

The kingdom of God is nothing less than the image of God imprinted on our souls and the place where God dwells. To encounter it is to encounter God and be transformed in consciousness and awareness of the divine.

Why are we ordinarily unaware of it? It is buried deep within us at the very core of our being. This divine image is not to be confused with our personality, which usually mars and distorts it. It has little to do with our opinions, prejudices, worldviews and experiences, for it is the divine “other,” as well as our authentic self.

The characters in the parables had to sell everything. They had to be stripped of what they had previously deemed to be precious, true or important in order to receive something far more valuable. Clutching to what we think we have and who we think we are will make it difficult to receive the great gifts God seeks to give us.