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 while these two books concentrate on these three kings, the books, in fact, are not political histories.
The authors of these inspired books were not interested in politics, except when politics furnished some religious consideration or another. For them, religion was the most important consideration in life: the Hebrew religion, by which God related to the people and they to God. Nothing else made any difference in the long run.
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 men.
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, God was supreme. 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 the scorn of the culture of the time, and indeed as they faced increasing pressure from the political authorities.
The verses in this reading 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 reading 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 it.
The Gospel presents the kingdom, and life with God, as this 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 invest every part of ourselves in our quest for God. We must “sell everything,” so to speak, to be true disciples.
The reading further reminds us that saints, as well as sinners, are people the world and of the kingdom of God on earth. God, and only God, will balance the picture.
This Liturgy of the Word confronts us directly with the fact that our kingdom is not of this world, just as Jesus insisted before Pilate that the redeemer’s kingdom was not of this world. As followers of Jesus, as part of the mystical body of Christ, we are in the same situation.
Necessarily revealed is that this world is not enduring. Only the wise see that the enduring kingdom is God’s spiritual kingdom: but surrounded by the glitter of worldly success and profit, it is easy to forget that these “rewards” one day will vanish — no exceptions. When we devote our lives totally to God, we simply are facing facts.
What we build on earthly gain is inevitably built on shifting, lifeless sand. This is the blunt fact. God’s kingdom will not pass away. It is the most precious pearl, worth everything in our lives and hearts.
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