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July 30 2017 (A) Seventeenth Sunday of the Year

  1. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: Christ and his Church the Pearl of Great Price

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12). You have asked for a discerning judgment for yourself. This reading in which King Solomon asks of the Lord for a heart how to discern between good and evil is chosen to go with today’s Gospel reading in which we have parables comparing the kingdom of heaven with fine pearls eagerly sought after, or a treasure hidden in a field. In its biblical setting in the Bible this reading comes at the beginning of the account of Solomon’s reign. Solomon’s wisdom became proverbial in biblical tradition, and a text in this wisdom tradition is inserted here at the beginning of his reign, a reign which ended in disaster for the true religion of the Lord, and the final chapter on Solomon’s reign (1 Kings chapter 11) is on Solomon’s’ folly. The Jerusalem Temple had not yet been built and it was still quite lawful to offer sacrifices on hill tops, on high places. One of these was Gibeon, one of the most renowned of the high places, and at the beginning of his reign Solomon goes there to offer sacrifices to the Lord. While there he had a dream by night in which the Lord spoke to him, telling him to ask what he would like to give him. At this beginning of his reign Solomon asked only for one thing, a heart to understand how to discern good from evil, so that he might be able to govern his people, God’s people. God readily granted him his request, a heart wise and shrewd, a wise and discerning mind. The biblical text goes on to recount a wise judgment given by Solomon, on learning of which all Israel perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to render justice. At the beginning of his account the biblical narrator notes that Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father. However, the sequence of the narrative paints a different picture. Solomon was unfaithful to the covenant with God, and given to the idolatry so beloved of his many foreign wives, reminding us that his prayer for a discerning heart, and the divine promise, must be taken in conjunction with human free will.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 118[119]). Lord how I love your law!

Second Reading (Romans 8:28-30). God intended us to become true images of his Son. This present passage from the letter to the Romans is a continuation of that read last Sunday, which in its turn was a continuation of that of the preceding Sunday. It is best to reflect on all these three readings together. The first of these readings reminded us that all creation, and the souls of believers, were eagerly waiting for God to reveal the glory proper to his children; all creation, and believers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were seen as groaning for the coming liberation and glory. Last Sunday’s reading told us that the Holy Spirit helped believers to formulate their prayers properly, prayers and petitions accepted by God. The glory that is proper to God’s children lies at the very heart of the Christian message, and already here on earth the Holy Spirit it active within believers, transforming them from one degree of glory to another, as Paul elsewhere expresses it, transforming them to have them become true images of Jesus, God’s own Son. This is the aim of the process that began with God’s first call to faith, a process in which God was active from beginning to end. This is what Paul speaks of in today’s reading. Paul envisages the process as already over, and speaks of it as complete. He speaks of stages in this process, not that this is intended as something automatic. Paul’s interest is in the totality of the process, and human free will is to be understood throughout. His stress is on God’s purpose in this work of the salvation of the individual, and of the final glory at the end of the process.

 

The Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52). He sells everything he owns and buys the field. This reading ends Matthew’s account of the parables of Jesus. In today’s reading there are three parables, two of them about the happiness that goes with discovery of the kingdom of heaven, and implicitly on how eager people should be to seek and find the kingdom. The third parable is about the end time and the division of the good from the bad, and the indifferent. It is similar to Matthew’s first parable on the Sower, and can be related to the other two parables in today’s reading as a reminder that the message of these is not just an option, but that neglect of acceptance of the kingdom can have serious consequences.

In some biblical texts the kingdom of God is presented as a mystery that needs to be revealed. In another sense, as in today’s parables, it can be discovered, as the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great value. The parables express, implicitly, the joy that should accompany the discovery of the kingdom, something that Jesus had himself experienced and expressed with regard to the revelation of the mystery hidden from all ages. Another point implicit in the parables is the readiness with which the discovery of the kingdom should be embraced.

In answer to Jesus’ question whether they understood “all this” (literally “all these things”) the disciples reply that they did. By “all these things” probably the parables and their interpretation and implications are intended. With regard to the phrase “every scribe”, or “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven”, it is not altogether clear what is exactly denoted by the term “scribe”. Scribes were central to the first-century Judaism, to Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism in particular. The meaning intended might be that every Jewish scribe that converts to the kingdom and Christianity is well equipped to teach from the treasures of the Old Testament, from Jewish tradition and New Testament teaching. Matthew himself may have been such a scribe. But this understanding is not quite necessary. The early Church had its own learned class and learned scribes who could draw on the “old”, the earlier Old Testament tradition, and the “new” teaching of Jesus and the Church. +But since Matthew in his Gospel has re-interpreted and recast earlier Jesus teaching and Christian tradition, it may be that the “old” of the text is this earlier Christian tradition, and the “new” the re-presentation of Matthew himself and others. In any event, Christian scribes learned in the kingdom down the ages have presented new formulations of the older tradition.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Christ and his Church the Pearl of Great Price

Today’s readings in good part speak for themselves and provide ample material for reflection on faith in the modern world, with its general lack of interest in religion or religious matters, an attitude affecting many Catholics. The pearl of great value and the hidden treasure in the parable are symbols for the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is Christ and his mission, and their continuation in the Christian faith and the Church. The theme runs through all three readings. Solomon prayed for an understanding heart, a heart to recognize the truth and God’s will for him. The second reading speaks of the dignity of the Christian faith, and God’s activity in bringing the first stages to perfection, all intent in having believers become true images of Jesus, God’s own Son. The gospel parables are a call to believers to embrace their Christian calling with joy, and for those still seeking the truth to continue their quest and find the hidden treasure that of belief in Christ.

In earlier times this joy and pride in our Christian belief was taken as normal. God’s plan in Christ and the Church, leading to eternal life, was presented and accepted as the one thing necessary. The gospel parables call on us to renew our eagerness for the kingdom, and all it stands for.