The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52
At times when driving on a straight away, do you ever let go of the steering wheel and see if your car needs realignment? Veering off center to one side – what do we do? Turn the steering wheel against the pull; against the way the car wants to go.
Biblical wisdom has to do with “alignment” – alignment with God’s ways because we have a tendency to want to veer off from what God desires for us. Remember the garden. Remember the tree of good and evil. Think Original Sin. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.” [Genesis 3:6] The fruit of the tree, pleasing and desirable, caused the humans to veer off from what God had ordered. But what wisdom was there to gain? Whose wisdom? Our personal moral universe of wisdom? “So she took some of its fruit and ate it.” [Genesis 3: 4] And then humanity began veering off the path out of alignment!
Paul gives voice to our personal and spiritual struggle for alignment, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” [Romans 7:15] We all know the experience Paul is talking about; a veering off; a self – reflection and acknowledgment even as we sin.
The story of Solomon gives us pause to reflect on this aspect of our spiritual life. “God said to Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”” What a wonderful unlimited invitation! Like the genie in the lamp or fairy godmother, right? But God is not a genie or a fairy godmother. The false perception that we have unlimited choices is one of the great sins of our generation. We abhor limits, rules, constraints, and regulations of any kind. They assault our sense of personal freedom.
Solomon’s answer begins with self-reflection. He knows he is young and inexperienced. He has not led an army. He doesn’t know how to act. Does Solomon have what it takes to lead a people? In his need, Solomon asks for an understanding, a wise and listening heart. A heart that is aligned with God but aligned so that he can discern between good and evil, right and wrong for the people.
Go back to the garden. What was the one tree that Adam and Eve were told not to eat from lest they die? “The Lord God gave the human being this order: “You are free [Freedom] to eat from any of the trees of the garden except [Limits] except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”” [Genesis 2:16-17]
Why do you suppose the fruit of this one tree is forbidden?
The tree of knowledge is forbidden because there are two types of fruit on it, good fruit and evil fruit. But they were difficult to distinguish from each other. Both fruits are “…good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and… desirable for gaining wisdom.” [Genesis 3:6] To discern the difference between good and evil is often an ambiguous choice, one that can bring with it a series of unintended consequences.
In asking for wisdom, Solomon not only reveals his character; a character that is more concerned for how to govern the people then for requesting anything personally for himself, but his request for discernment also turns on its head the choice of the garden. “Give your servant, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon requests, what Adam and Eve, what we are unwilling to accept about ourselves. That we are limited. That we are not always able to discern good from evil. That we cannot and should not have everything we want. That being unlimited causes us to veer off from the will of God. In refusing to acknowledge that we are limited we arrogantly commit the sin of grasping for power. Picture the hands of Eve and Adam reaching for the fruit in the garden. Contrast the hands of Jesus on the tree of the cross, empty. Paul writes to the Philippian community, “Though, Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, Jesus emptied himself…” [Philippians 2:6-7] In a world marked by an imbalance of overabundance for a few and a famine of basic needs for human life and flourishing for the vast majority of our sisters and brothers, would a bit of self – discipline and self – denial hurt any of us?
The marks of true wisdom have to do with an acknowledgment of our need for God, our wants that are not of God and our emptiness and powerlessness without God. It is an acknowledgement that we need to be aligned with God’s will for us, what God wants and intends for us. We call it grace. To realign ourselves with God’s will and be open to God’s grace, to turn our spiritual steering wheel against the pull, God gave us the authority in the Sacraments to forgive sin. When was the last time, like Solomon, did you do any in depth self-reflection in regard to the direction of your life and prayed the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
The passage ends ominously as God says to Solomon, “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you, up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.” And after you there will come no one to equal you?
“God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”” So, what would you and I ask of God?