There is no shortcut to God’s kingdom

  • July 13, 2011

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 24 (1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)

What can you give someone who appears to have everything? God solves the problem by giving Solomon a heavenly gift certificate — he can cash it in for anything he wants. God asks what Solomon wants and suggests the usual suspects: wealth, long life and the demise of his enemies. But the burdens of his office of king are weighing heavily on Solomon and he feels grossly inadequate for the job. That alone sets him apart: run of the mill despots would not have felt inadequate and wouldn’t have cared in the first place. Solomon asks for an understanding mind fit to govern others and the ability to discern between good and evil. God is immensely impressed and grants him those qualities to a superlative degree. There will never be another like him.

We can only hope that those in positions of responsibility and authority would make similar requests of God. Being granted wishes (usually three) by some superhuman or divine power is a familiar theme in the stories and legends of many of the world’s cultures. The fascination is seeing what the person will ask for and imagining what we would ask for in similar circumstances. The answer to that question probably reveals more about the individual’s character than we would care to admit. But this is not a story of the fulfilment of wishful fantasies nor is God in the business of granting wishes. It is about focusing on and maintaining a high ideal. Solomon’s ideal was wisdom, sound judgement and good leadership. We can ask God to grant us the grace to fulfill and live by our highest ideals. But this must be kept alive and maintained in the heart and mind consistently.

It is easy to go astray and allow one’s ideals to become mere words. This was unfortunately the fate of Solomon. After many years of wise and just kingship his spiritual ideals became quite tarnished. The declining years of his reign were marked by idolatry and intrigue. Upon his death his kingdom disintegrated and split into two rather antagonistic kingdoms. Our ideals carry us through life and provide us with guiding principles. But it is not enough to have ideals — one must also live them.

Like a chain Paul links together the ways in which God has always been working on our behalf. God foreknew us and predestined us; He called and justified us; and God also glorifies us. This is not some sort of spiritual elitism of a chosen few. Paul is only making sure that we realize that this is not our show or something that we deserve.  God is always with us and for whom God is their ideal all things will work for good — even when they are difficult or painful.

The rather mysterious and disarming similes of the kingdom give us clues in our journey to God. Why not just dig up the treasure hidden in the field and make off with it? Because we have no right to it — it does not belong to us, and we cannot possess it until we have paid our dues. The treasure is in our midst, not far away or up in the sky. In fact, it is deep within us. But there must be sacrifice and renunciation first — not by way of earning it but rendering ourselves capable of receiving it and using it wisely. There must be repentance, reconciliation and surrender. Likewise with the pearl of great price: we must be able to recognize what has supreme worth and what has lesser or relative worth. It would be very easy to be captivated by the beauty of the other pearls and to even convince ourselves that we are content with them. But there is only one worth having and for that one we must be prepared to let go of anything else that may have a hold on our desires.

The third parable teaches us about ambiguity. We live in a world in which light and darkness are often intertwined and mixed and this same ambiguity exists within each one of us. But we should resist inflexibility, impatience and perfectionism. The kingdom of God is within us and all are invited. But there is learning and struggle involved in claiming it — no shortcuts or cheap grace in our journey to God.

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