Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The First Book of Kings is the source of this weekend’s first reading. As might be supposed, the two books of Kings deal heavily with the kings of unified Israel: Saul, David and Solomon. But books are not just political histories, because the authors of these inspired writings were not interested in politics, except when politics furnished some religious consideration.
For the authors, religion was the most important consideration in life — the Hebrew religion, by which God related to the people and they to God. Nothing else, in the long run, made any difference.
David and Solomon were almost magical figures in the ancient Hebrew mind. David was the king who confirmed his own, and the nation’s, covenant with God. Solomon, who continued his father’s religious policy, was regarded as the wisest of humans.
Under David and Solomon, at least in the estimate of the Hebrews themselves, the unified kingdom of Israel had status among the nations of the ancient Middle East.
In this weekend’s reading, Solomon realized that, despite his own intelligence and access to power, it was God who was all-knowing. Solomon asked God not for power or wealth, but for the wisdom to govern well. Again, to emphasize the place of religion, governing well meant bringing the people to God and God to them.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans furnishes the second reading. The reading begins with a verse long a favorite source of consolation for Christians: “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him.” Paul wrote this epistle in part to encourage the Christian Romans as they faced not only the scorn of the culture of the time but increasing persecution from the political authorities.
These readings call for strong faith and for commitment to the fact that earthly life is not the be-all and end-all for humans.
For its last reading, the Church offers a selection from St. Matthew’s Gospel. The reading contains three short parables. These parables belong uniquely to Matthew.
Key to understanding the message is in noting the eagerness of the pearl merchant to possess the truly precious pearl. He sells everything in order to buy this priceless pearl.
The Gospel presents the kingdom, and life with God, as an extraordinarily valuable pearl. If we are wise, we will put everything else aside and seek the pearl that is the kingdom.
“Put everything else aside” is the operative phrase. We must “sell everything,” so to speak, to be true disciples.
The reading further shows that saints, as well as sinners, indeed all people in the world, live and at times struggle in life on earth. God and only God is the standard by which the good, the perfect, and the desired must be measured.
Ninety years ago, Catholic newspapers worldwide reported a love story. Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium, a Catholic, and Princess Astrid of Sweden, a Lutheran, a niece of the Swedish king, wished to be married. Religion was the problem. Belgians did not want a Protestant queen in their future.
The couple insisted. They were married. A priest advised Leopold’s Catholic relatives not to pressure Astrid into converting.
For several years, she remained a Lutheran. Then she asked to become a Catholic.
She said that she made her decision after watching Leopold when he received holy Communion at Mass. Something happened to him, she noticed. Somehow, he intensely felt that God was with him. She wanted to share the experience.
Her husband became King Leopold III when his father died. Astrid was queen of Belgium. Then, tragically, accidentally, she was killed. The king died many years later.
Things indeed happen to believers when they sense an encounter with God. It is a moment more precious than the finest pearls.
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