Michael Barnes S.J.
17th Sunday of the Year
1 Kings 3.5, 7-12: Last week the Wisdom of Solomon, this week the wise King himself. Yet there is, to say the least. a certain ambiguity in the historian's assessment of the proverbiall): magnificent Solomon. Because he was the son of David and thus the heir to the Covenant, God's promises were fulfilled in him; the people prospered under his wise and beneficent rule.
But only as long as the King remained faithful to Yahweh. In the end, despite all his many gifts and natural endowments, he sinned and was punished — and the people with him.
The two books of Kings are part of the great history of the people, put together in the early part of the Babylonian Exile. At the time of national disaster the people who were so convinced that God had specially blessed them had to go through a period of traumatic self-questioning. Why had it happened'? Had God deserted them? The answer is a very definite no. The Covenant is two-sided. God has not broken his side; in fact he has always remained faithful in the face of overwhelming provocation from his sinful people. God does not lack generosity: failure lies elsewhere.
At the beginning of Solomon's reign the future looks bright. The King prays to Yahweh for wisdom and understanding, "a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil." And his prayer is granted — "I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you."
Romans 8.28-30: Solomon was a great king not because he did all sorts of wise kingly things but because when he stumbled he did not lose faith in Yahweh, the only true king and wise judge. Paul has been speaking to the Romans about the Spirit who helps us in our weakness — the source of inspiration to all people, rich and poor, king and slave.
Now he continues: "We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those.who love him." It reads at first like an insignificant link passage. a throw-away line, but the more we think about it the more we realise how central it is to the whole direction of Paul's thinking.
To put it crudely: God is in charge. It does not matter what happens nor how badly things seem to be going; if we can learn to trust and to love God everything can be seen to be working for good. Ultimately nothing can be contrary to God's purpose.
So we just sit back and wait for the chaos, the riots, all sorts of disasters, to settle down and for God's will to be revealed? Certainly that would be one way to take the following verse — "Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified ..." But Paul never loses sight of the part to be played by every Christian who puts his trust in God.
The word is 'co-operation'. God's invitation is not made to those who think they can sit back in smug self-congratulation, but to those who know their own weakness. know that they cannot afford to be satisfied — and yet, through the vision presented by Jesus, lind a strngth to carry on building.
Matthew 13.44-52: The vision which Jesus preached was of a Kingdom in which God reigned over sinful human hearts. Nobody stops sinning or reforms simply because he has been told to or even because he knows he will be punished. God is not that sort of king. The sinner turns away from his sin because he sees that good is more attractive. There is no room for sin because the vision of what Christ presents completely takes him over.
Hence the first two parables in our reading. Unusally Matthew talks about an individual's — rather than the group — response. A man finds some treasure hidden in a field; immediately he goes off. sells all he has and buys the field. Again, a merchant sells all that he has in order to possess one pearl of great value.
We may well doubt the motives of the man in the first parable, there is an element of secrecy in the operation which seems dishonest. But Jesus is not giving a lesson on business ethics. Rather, we are being asked to note the sudden enthusiasm of the man. An unexpected discovery and his whole life changes: everything is directed towards preserving and enjoying what he has gained.
The Kingdom is like that. Visions change hearts; threats do not. And the vision of the Kingdom is open to all. No one is excluded from Jesus' invitation, A third parable, that of the net which is cast into the sea and "brings in a haul of all kinds" emphasises the future. The sorting out will be done in God's good time. But already the net has been cast, the word has gone out, the Kingdop is being built.