17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A common theme in fairy stories is for someone to be given an opportunity to wish for anything. Sometimes, even three wishes are offered. Maybe all these stories derive from the story in today’s first reading about King Solomon. The name Solomon has become synonymous with wisdom, and when we usually think of Solomon we usually think of him as a wise old man.
In today’s reading though, he is a young man who has just come to the throne after the death of his father, King David. Unlike today’s politicians the young Solomon is not sure if he is up to the job that faces him. Nevertheless, when in a dream he hears that God will grant him one wish, he shows that he is wise beyond his years.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
To judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
The Lord praises Solomon for he has not asked for something silly or stupid. He has asked for Wisdom. He did not ask for personal riches or for power over his enemies. He asked for “understanding so that you may know what is right.” It is a truism that the smartest people, those with the most education or book learning, are not necessarily the wisest. Here we see that wisdom involves decision-making. It is the ability to decide between what is right and wrong—not just for ourselves but also for all those for whom we are responsible.
Today’s gospel reading is all about decision-making. Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a treasure in a field; to a valuable pearl; and to a net full of fish. When he says to his followers, “Do you understand all these things?” he is speaking to us. It is clear that he is not just speaking about buried treasure, or jewels, or fish. He is speaking about the decisions we will all have to make in our lives.
We just have to turn on the TV or look at the newspaper headlines to see that many rich and famous people make really bad decisions. How many young, popular rock stars have had their lives cut short by drug addiction. Look at all the politicians of both parties who have been forced to leave office in disgrace because of poor moral decisions. What about the star athletes who after years of making millions in their prime, go broke a few years after their retirement?
It’s not just the rich and famous who make bad decisions. Everyday, ordinary people like ourselves are faced with decisions. Most are minor but some can be really significant and life changing. Very often the decision does not seem to be between right and wrong but between two equally attractive options. When making these decisions, it is not a bad idea to think of the pearl of great price.
In today’s gospel, Jesus used the example of a merchant who already has amassed a store of fine gems. But one day he comes across the finest one of all. To get it, he sells or trades all the rest. To achieve success in sports athletes will have to devote themselves to unremitting practice in the pursuit of excellence. Even if they excel at more than one sport, they will eventually have to decide to give up the others for the one that offers the most chance of success. In business it is much the same. Success means focusing on your goal and putting everything else aside.
In our lives it is not so obvious. What is our pearl of great price? Is there anything we want that is so precious that we will give up all we have for it? I suppose that ten people will give ten different answers if asked what is their pearl of great prices. If we think about it seriously, I think most of us would say that it has something to do with happiness. What wouldn’t we give or do to be really truly happy?
But what is happiness? I think most of us would agree that while material possessions are important, they alone cannot provide happiness. We live in the richest nation on earth, a nation where even the poorest have cell phones and multiple TVs. Yet there is so much sadness, loneliness, and sorrow. Ultimately, happiness is a spiritual thing. Even though in our daily lives we might not think about it, I believe it has something to do with our souls. Someone once said that our bodies do not have souls, but that every individual is a soul that has a body. In a sense we have all been incarnated.
St/ Augustine said that our souls would never rest or be at peace until we found God. Perhaps this is what St. Paul was getting at in today’s second reading.
And those he predestined he also called;
And those he called he also justified,
And those he justified he also glorified.
The pearl of great price is happiness, and it can be found through wisdom, and wisdom tells us that it can be found through love, through love of God and our neighbor.
Reading 1. I Kings 3: 5, 7-12
Reading II. Romans 8:28-30
Gospel. Matthew 13: 44-52 (Pearl of Great Price).