The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
I Kings 3:5,7-12  +  Romans 8:28-30  +  Matthew 13:44-52

… all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. 

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 407: cannot ignore wound of sin in discerning human situation
CCC 1777-1785: moral decision making in rapport with God’s will
CCC 1786-1789: seeking will of God in divine law in difficult circumstances
CCC 1038-1041: separation of good and evil at Judgment
CCC 1037: God predestines no one to hell

Ten centuries before Christ, the son of David became the King of Israel.  Solomon was a young man.  He recognized his lack of experience and lack of ability to govern Israel.  Yet the Lord told Solomon that any gift he asked for would be given to him.

Solomon could have asked for absolute wealth, since with such wealth he could buy off any kingdom that got in his way.  Or he could have asked for absolute power, since then he could destroy any opposing kingdom.  He could have asked for any number of things.  He decided to ask for wisdom.

Wisdom is insight into the ultimate meaning of things.  This becomes clearer when we reflect upon the differences among wisdom, intelligence, and what we might call “smarts”.  Even computers can be smart in terms of recalling facts and calculating equations.  But intelligence transcends smartness, while a computer cannot transcend its programming.  Intelligence goes beyond what is known by means of a desire to explore the unknown.

Wisdom, however, transcends intelligence because it ponders the ultimate meaning of things.  Wisdom explores the origin, the nature, and the goal of everything that is, culminating in the contemplation of the Most Holy Trinity.  Divine wisdom is a gift of God the Holy Spirit.

It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Reading ring true:  “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”   We need to recognize this purpose as God the Father’s providential will.  This divine, providential will converges in Christ.  St. Paul explains this as he continues:  “those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn”.

However, before the advent of this firstborn, the Jewish Scriptures already held seven books called “Wisdom Literature”:  the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Song of Songs, and Sirach.  The wisdom expressed in these books of the People of Israel was unlike the wisdom taught by many ancient cultures.  It’s also unlike the conventional wisdom according to which Western culture operates today.

The wisdom that God revealed to Israel isn’t based upon self-interest or self-promotion.  It is founded upon nothing and no one other than the Lord God Himself.  If God is part of our lives, then even if our life seems a puzzle, we have reason to hope.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand every piece of the puzzle.  God teaches us, over time, to move one piece of the puzzle over here, and another piece there.  Over time the picture God has had in His Mind all along emerges.

This might make divine wisdom sound rather lofty, other-worldly, and as a consequence, impractical:  good for monks and nuns, but not so for the layperson on the street.  But wisdom is not some “pie in the sky” virtue.  It’s eminently practical, especially in our world today.

When individuals live for themselves, discord grows:  first in families and then in communities and nations.  This is why St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summary of Theology ascribes the seventh beatitude—“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”—to the Holy Spirit’s gift of Wisdom [ST II-II 45,6].  In our world today the teaching of St. Thomas on this point is sorely needed.

He notes first that a peacemaker is one who makes peace either within himself or in others.  In either case peace results from setting all matters in due order.  The highest form of order can only be seen, however, and therefore set in place, in view of divine wisdom.

Second, the reward of peacemakers is that they become children of God.  St. Thomas here quotes from this Sunday’s Second Reading.  In making peace, one shares in the likeness of God’s only-begotten Son:  or in the words of Saint Paul, one is “conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”  This divine Son is “Wisdom Begotten”, St. Thomas points out.  On the Cross, Jesus makes peace between His Father and sinful man.  Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of this “Wisdom Begotten”.

“The Judgment of Solomon” from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c. 1440)
The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.917/945, p. 53