Don’t you love stories that tell of a
person stumbling upon a magic lantern or amulet? They accidentally
rub it and a fairy godmother or genie appears saying,
"Wish for anything you want and I will
grant it to you." That’s when we put the book we are reading down
and our imagination runs wild. What would we wish for: money? No
more work? Good health? Long life? Peace in our families? Peace in
the world? I’ve always wanted to be a concert violinist, without the
long hours of practice. That’s what I would be tempted to wish for.
The first reading, from I Kings today,
enlivens our imagination. God comes to Solomon in a dream and bids
him "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." God has entered
Solomon’s life with an open invitation that catches Solomon at a
vulnerable time in his life. He is young and has just begun to reign
as king. He is feeling inadequate. Solomon has gone to the mountain
shrine of Gibeon to pray for help. In his response to God he admits
his need: his youth and inexperience and the burden on his shoulders
of ruling a large nation.
Solomon could have asked for anything,
but his request is for an "understanding heart." (Some translate
this as "an understanding mind.") He’s not asking to have all
knowledge at his fingertips. He will not try to impress his subjects
by knowing everything. Instead, he wants to know how to govern a
vast nation with an "understanding heart." In other words a
"listening heart," so that he will be able to distinguish between
good and evil; to determine what is right for his people. He seems
to understand already that his role as a ruler will require that he
be unselfish in his service of God and God’s people.
Let’s return to the beginning of the
story. If God put the same offer to us, "Ask something of me and I
will give it to you" – what would we ask for? The offer really puts
our priorities and highest values on the line, doesn’t it? Who are
those who are important to us? What do we need in order to respond
and be of service to them? In addition, what are our core values?
Since God took the initiative in the story and granted Solomon’s
right-ordered request, maybe God is ready to do the same for us, if
we discern our priorities and ask.
Solomon was invited to make a choice.
So were the disciples in today’s gospel. The kingdom of heaven
requires us to do the same. It may seem that we happen upon it, by
chance, like the treasure buried in the field. Still, it requires
discernment on our part. Can we appreciate what a treasure we have
come upon? Are we willing to accept it in joy and make the
sacrifices in our lives to retain it? These are big choices, not
lightly entered into. Once the person in the parable sells all they
have to obtain the treasure they will have nothing left – except the
treasure. Our daily lives need to consistently reflect the choice we
have made in our response to God. We will need to practice, as fully
as we can, what we profess here in church on Sunday? After all, we
did buy the field didn’t we?
If we did buy the field then all of our
living will reflect our choice. What is the cost of Christianity?
Everything. Didn’t Peter, Andrew, James and John leave all they had–
boats, and nets, father and their business, to follow Jesus
(4:18-22)? Later Matthew would leave his tax collector’s post (9:9)
to follow Jesus. They did give up much to "buy the field."
At first they may have felt excitement
as they followed the popular itinerant preacher. Later, after the
tragedy of his death and the revelation of his resurrection, they
would experience the joy the person in the parable did. Note that
the Gospels don’t emphasize the sacrifice the first disciples made.
The sacrifice was worth it, they had come to know the joy one finds
in the kingdom of heaven.
We shouldn’t get distracted by the
legalities of whether it was proper for the man to keep the treasure
secret from the field’s owner. We will let Jesus, the storyteller,
tell us a brief, pointed parable about a happen-chance finding and
the joy the discovery brought to a person . While the cost of
purchasing the field to get the treasure is great – "all that he
has" – I wouldn’t stress the sacrifice the man makes. Jesus seems to
focus on the treasure that is the kingdom and the joy that treasure
brings to the new owner.
Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of
heaven aren’t other-worldly stories. If they were we would be gazing
up at the sky to see what the kingdom is like. Instead, when Jesus
began his ministry after his sojourn in the wilderness, he
proclaimed, "Reform your lives, the kingdom of heaven is at hand"
(5:17). Where could people find that kingdom?
They would discover it in very concrete
ways, when Jesus entered their lives and healed someone; reached out
to outcasts; cared for the poor; accepted men and women as equals.
That’s how concrete and close the kingdom of heaven was for people
when Jesus passed by. It was like the person in the parable. They
would discover the treasure of the kingdom, as if by chance. And
once they accepted it, they would share in its joy.
People could also discover the
closeness of the kingdom whenever Jesus told one of his parables.
The parables were as ordinary as everyday life – seed planted, bread
baked, sheep lost and found, pearls purchased and fish caught. Those
are the examples Jesus used to help his hearers imagine God in their
lives – in this life, and now, not in a future time and in a
far off residence. He described God’s word as Moses did to the
people about to enter the Promise Land: "something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it
out" (Deut 30:14).
The actions of Jesus tell us that God’s
revelation is concrete and up close. It’s also what the parables
teach us by their ordinary, everyday figures: that the kingdom of
heaven is right there in front of us in our daily lives, if only we
have ears and eyes to perceive it. Parables, like today’s, provide
the eyes and ears to catch God’s entrance into our lives in
surprising ways: like a treasure you happen to stumble on and
realize its life-changing the value. When we realize that, we do
whatever we have to do to possess it in joy.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s
RESOURCE FOR THE PREACHER
Richard J. Sklba, "Fire Starters:
Igniting the Holy in the Weekday Homily." (Collegeville:
Liturgical Press, 2013) Paper, $39.95. ISBN 978-0-8146-3415-8
Bishop Sklba brings the skills of a
biblical scholar and pastor to this excellent resource. Those of us
who preach at daily Mass and Communion services will find his
reflections on the readings excellent resources to feed the
preaching preparation process. He provides "fire starters" to touch
both mind and heart with God’s Word. This text can help fill in the
gap for help with the preachings that occupy the daily ministry of
Give your servant, therefore, an
1 Kings 3:9
The word "understand" is used at least
five times in today’s readings. To comprehend the term,
"understanding heart," from the ancient biblical perspective, we
should know that Solomon is asking God for a "listening heart." The
heart in the Old Testament refers not to the organ circulating the
blood, but to the seat of the intellect and the ability to discern
good and evil. Solomon wants to follow God’s direction through the
process of discernment. But, something else also happens when a
person starts listening with their hearts. Pope Francis writes, in
The Joy of the Gospel (Word Among Us, 2013), that:
"When we live out a spirituality of
drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are
opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts.
Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new
about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we
grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God. If we want to
advance in the spiritual life, then, we must constantly be
You see, if we are to grow our
relationship with God, we cannot have a spirituality that is merely
a vertical me and Thee. No, to grow our relationship with God, we
have to have a spirituality that is me, Thee, and the other. This is
a spirituality that is both vertical and horizontal. Thus, Pope
Francis calls us all to be missionaries as he goes on to write:
"My mission of being in the heart of
the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off;
it is not an ‘extra’ of just another moment in life. Instead, it is
something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very
self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I
am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even
branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening,
raising up, healing and freeing"
How do we do this? First, we must make
the decision that we want to deepen our relationship with God. Then,
we must step out to encounter the other—the poor, the disadvantaged,
the incarcerated, the immigrant, the sick. . .
We have many ministries here at Sacred
Heart. If you didn’t know that, you haven’t looked at the Sacred
Heart website (www.sacredheartcathedral.org) under ministries of social justice.
Then, ask God for an understanding heart.
----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries
Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.
Mini-reflections on the Sunday
scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is
also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people
From today’s Gospel reading:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure
buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he
to buy that field.
It may seem that we happen upon the
kingdom of heaven, mere birth or by chance – like the treasure
buried in the field. Still, it requires discernment on our part. Can
we appreciate what a treasure we have come upon? Are we willing to
accept it in joy and make the sacrifices in our lives to retain it?
So we ask ourselves:
- In my daily life how do I
experience the treasure that is the kingdom of heaven?
- What sacrifice is that treasure
now asking of me?
DEATH ROW INMATES
"The use of the death
penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most
forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this
space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a
postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not
forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through
North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If
the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Terrence Taylor #0539901 (On death
row since 2/18/97)
- Johnny S. Parker #0311966
- Hedgepath Rowland #0176701
----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service
Center, Raleigh 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic
position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic
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