17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30, 2017)

So often the connection between the first reading and the Gospel is one of similarity. Today, we hear contrast.

We remember David, Solomon’s father, who began his “ministry” in his youth by killing Goliath with his slingshot. The great hero, as an adult, became an embarrassment by taking the wife of Uriah, one of his soldiers, and having Uriah killed in a cover-up of his adultery.

Today we hear Solomon, the boy-king, pleasing God by asking for what God possesses: wisdom - and an understanding heart.

As a grown-up king, Solomon took seven years to build God’s lavish temple; but he spent thirteen building his own palace, amid harsh labor and heavy taxes on his subjects. Solomon was warned. What did the wisest man do? He married 700 foreign women and took 300 concubines who provided alternate gods whose shrines arrived not long after the women. The endeavor divided the kingdom. Solomon’s “understanding heart” ended sadly. Maybe wisdom is not all its cracked up to is. Simply put, wisdom alone is not enough!

Our Gospel brings to conclusion parable-packed chapter 13 with its emphasis on the mysterious presence and growth of the kingdom of God in parables from every day experience.

Jesus parabled a farmer discovering and hiding a treasure. What was his point? Jesus was telling his hearers and us that the kingdom is like found money! It is not earned. The Lord freely gives it.

Jesus parabled the merchant, who was smart enough to see that he should sell anything to get the great pearl. The pearl, in the pre-diamond era, was the most precious ‘thing’ on earth. Jesus was telling his hearers and us that we - like the merchant - should “trade up,” sell whatever it takes to possess the kingdom. If the merchant sold other pearls to get this one, we learn that our other pearls need to be sold off: prime attachment to knowledge, music, golf, sports, TV, even family needs to be prioritized. There is one pearl of great price.

Jesus parabled the fisherman and his net to teach again that the ultimate judgment of who is in the kingdom and who is not, is his. [It is surely not we other fish]. This is what we heard last week in allowing the wheat and weeds to grow together. Jesus tells us that while there will be a judgment; we are not the ones to make that judgment.

Teachers [modern scribes] need to be like the householder who takes the best of the old, the Torah, and joins it to the new, the teaching of Jesus. Many think that Matthew becomes autobiographical here; they think that Matthew himself is the scribe who knows how to go into the rich storehouse of tradition and brings forth both what is new and what is old. Both are essential for correctly proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. Of course, we do not live in the past, but we do build upon it. We must claim our authentic past in order to move into our authentic future.

The decision of choosing the kingdom of god is basically the choice: will I be in charge of my own life or will I give priority in all things to the will of god. We often do not realize how self-willed and self-sufficient we try to be. Many prize their self-determination above all else. It comes as no surprise that our self-will is recognized as the basic cause of our difficulties. “Conversion” consists in sacrificing self-will to God’s will.

A final point. Some of us remember the pre-Vatican II understanding that rather presumptuously identified the Roman Catholic Church as the kingdom of god on earth. Today we are more modest, we say that the church is an instrument of the kingdom of god. The kingdom of God is bigger than the church.

Perhaps during the quiet-time during communion this morning we would do well to identify our competing pearls, examine them, and be sure that no one, no thing jeopardizes our treasure of the presence of God within us, t he pearl of great price.