July 26, 2014

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH


(Click here for today’s readings

Put yourself in Solomon’s place. God says to you, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” What criteria would you use for your request?

Solomon’s criteria were simple. He was King, he had to govern his people, but he was inexperienced. We commonly say he asked for wisdom; but his actual words were, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.

His values are clear. Yes, his royal position is important, but his responsibilities are not merely administrative; and judging justly is a sacred trust. The highest value, however, is expressed with the words, “I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen.” His service is to God first. And his governance is exercised not over just any nation, but over God’s chosen people.

Using the language we find in today’s parables, we could say that Solomon asked for a “treasure” or a “pearl of great price.” And he got it.

Let me be clear. When I say, “Put yourself in Solomon’s place,” I don’t mean you should think of yourself as a newly crowned king. Think of yourself as you are today, and God tells you to ask for anything you want.

This isn’t one of those three-wishes jokes. It’s a serious question, first and foremost about what really matters in your life.

From one point of view, your answer isn’t all that important. St. Paul reminds us today that “all things work for good for those who love God.” That’s helpful, because it means we don’t have to worry too much maybe making a mistake. This is not “Jeopardy!”

Still, you would want to choose the right thing, the best thing for what matters most at this moment in your life, maybe even one of the things Solomon didn’t ask for. “Long life” and “riches” can’t be all bad, especially if they can be put to good use to accomplish your goals.

There we go again. Goals imply values, values imply what is most important.

We can be reasonably sure that God wouldn’t agree simply to satisfy our greed, or our lust for power and pleasure, or our desire for revenge. We can be reasonably sure that those things would not ultimately matter the most to us.

Our request, like Solomon’s, would have to be personal without being selfish. It would have to be concrete without being too specific, general without being ambiguous, realistic without being crass, noble without being a daydream. Here is an example from the Book of Proverbs: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need; lest, being full, I deny you, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God” (30:7).

Interestingly, this request from Proverbs, just like Solomon’s, also has something to do with God. This is where the “Kingdom of God” comes in. Whether we think of it as treasure or as a pearl, its value is such that everything else pales in comparison. The Christian is prepared to sacrifice everything for it.

At the time the Gospel was being preached and then written, Christians were in fact forfeiting lands and freedom, being rejected by friends and family, and even being put to death, all for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus was their treasure. Nothing and no one else could even come close.

There’s a famous story about the ancient Greek thinker and inventor Archimedes running around shouting “Eureka! I found it!” What he had found was the solution to a practical problem put to him by the king.

Our problem is put to us by the Lord: “Ask for anything you want.” What shall we ask for?

Everyone wants world peace, for example. What gifts would you ask for if you felt called to be an effective peacemaker?

The best starting point is for each of us to recognize our unique place in the Kingdom of God, then work out what gift will enable us best to accomplish the work that has been given to us, and then ask for it—confidently, even boldly.

The treasure in the field and the pearl of great price are there for the finding. We can run around shouting “Eureka!” for a while, but then we have to put ourselves in Solomon’s place.

No comments :