Homily – The 17th 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

Saints are an important part of our lives as Catholics.  We pray to a patron saint for a particular need.  We name our children after saints.  We celebrate, throughout the year, the feasts of saints who inspire us by their struggles as much as by their accomplishments.

If you were to look online at what’s called the “General Roman Calendar”, you’d see the list of saints whose feasts are celebrated at Holy Mass throughout the world.  However, the list of saints on the General Roman Calendar is very selective.  There are thousands and thousands of canonized saints, but only 365 days in the average year.  So most of the Church’s canonized saints do not have their feasts celebrated at Holy Mass.

Fortunately, there is a resource that gives us the names, feast days, and brief biographies of the vast majority of the Church’s official saints.  It’s called the Roman Martyrology, and although a printed copy is very expensive, it costs nothing at all to look through it online.

We might be inclined to think that the Church’s official saints lived only during the two thousand years of the Church’s history-to-date, from Pentecost onwards.  Of course, we would have to admit that there are several saints mentioned in the New Testament who died before Jesus’ death, such as St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, and Sts. Simeon and Anna.  But what about holy men and women who died before the birth of Jesus Christ?

Within the pages of the Roman Martyrology are found the feast days of thirty-three saints from the pages of the Old Testament.  These saints’ feasts are not celebrated at Holy Mass, but their feasts are commemorated during the Divine Office.[1]  Many of them are the prophets after whom the prophetic books of the Old Testament are named:  for example, the feast day of Saint Isaiah is May 9th, and the feast day of St. Ezekiel is July 23rd.  Other saints of the Old Testament are key figures from the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible—such as St. Moses, whose feast day is September 4th, and St. Abraham, whose feast day is October 9th.

However, there’s one group of Old Testament figures that’s not highly represented among the Old Testament saints, and that’s the Kings of Israel.  Among the thirty-three Old Testament saints, the only king is Saint David, whose feast day is December 29th.  We might speculate about why only one Old Testament king is a saint, and if we were to speculate about this question, we might do so by looking at the example of Saint David’s successor, his son Solomon, who is at the center of this Sunday’s First Reading.

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We hear about the life of Solomon in the First Book of Kings.[2]  In the first two chapters, King David dies, and his son Solomon becomes King of Israel.  This Sunday’s First Reading is taken from Chapter 3, and the newly crowned King Solomon is unsure about how to rule his kingdom.  But God decides to help him out by appearing to him in a dream.

Solomon had inherited great wealth and power from his father.  But he was smart enough to know that there’s a big difference between what you inherit and what you earn by your own effort.  Solomon had to be humble to speak to the Lord as he did.  The Lord had plainly stated:  “Whatever you ask I shall give you.”  Not only had David given Solomon his wealth, his power, and his crown.  Now the Lord God Himself offered Solomon a blank check:  “Whatever you ask I shall give you.”

Solomon must have been humble to respond as he did.  Solomon admitted, “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. … Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”

“The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request.  So God said to him:  ‘Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—I do as you requested.  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.’”

From this exchange between the Lord and Solomon, there are several points we might reflect upon.  For example, we might reflect upon the things that Solomon chose not to ask for—such as a long life, riches, or victory over enemies—because he recognized their relative unimportance.

Instead, we might reflect upon the generosity of the Lord:  that is, how after Solomon asked for understanding, the Lord gave him not only understanding, but wisdom as well.  These two gifts are not the same thing.  Understanding and wisdom are two separate Gifts of the Holy Spirit.[3]  The Lord’s response to Solomon’s request shows us how generous God is when we approach Him with humility.

However, while you might want later on to reflect upon the gifts that Solomon did not request, and upon the gift God gave which Solomon had not requested, consider right now a different point of reflection.  Consider why King Solomon is not a saint, as his father King David is.

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The most obvious explanation of why King Solomon is not a saint is found in Scripture.  God had bestowed great wisdom upon Solomon.  His wisdom was so great, in fact, that four books of the Old Testament bear the name of Solomon as author:  Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and the Book of Wisdom.  Yet Solomon was more than a man of words.  He stands in Jewish history as the builder of the first Jewish Temple.

However, in spite of God’s gifts to him, in the end, Solomon gave himself over to gross idolatry, among other sins against the Commandments.  In Chapter 11 of the First Book of Kings, we hear not only of Solomon’s sins, but also of the Lord’s punishment of him:  the Lord broke the Kingdom of Israel in two, and after Solomon, the Kingdom was never united again.

But how could someone who started off so promising, with so many gifts given to him both by God and man, end up like this?  The answer is not in the Old Testament, but in the New.  St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, explains the spiritual principle at stake when he writes:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” [1 Corinthians 13:1-3].

This is the difference between a gifted man and a saint.  In the spiritual life, humility is the start.  The virtue of faith, which Old Testament saints like King David nurtured, opens the door of the soul to God’s graces.  Gifts such as understanding and wisdom then strengthen us.  But the love of God is what makes the difference in the end.[4]  Only the love of God can change a person into a saint.  This is the love that we speak of in the ancient prayer:  “Teach me to love, Lord, that I may love.  Show me your love, Lord, that I may love.  Love me, Lord, that I may love.”


[1] Before the Second Vatican Council, and even today where the 1962 liturgical books are used as authorized by Summorum Pontificum, the Roman Martyrology is read at the canonical Hour of Prime.  If it is read in the post-Vatican II form, this is usually done after the concluding prayer of Lauds [Morning Prayer].

The entry for each date in the Roman Martyrology is read on the previous day.  While reading it in choir is recommended, it may be done outside the Divine Office.  For example, in seminaries, it’s traditional to read it after the main meal of the day.

[2] Also in the First Book of Chronicles, and briefly in the Second Book of Samuel.

[3] Cf. Isaiah 11:1–3; CCC 1830-1831; and St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae IaIIae, Q. 68.

[4] In addition to idolatry, another of Solomon’s sins against the Covenant with the Lord was his many marriages to women of alien religions.  In fact, it was these marriages that led to his idolatry:  “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods’; Solomon clung to these in love.  He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart” [I Kings 11:1-3].  Because of Solomon’s disordered heart, he could not finally bear the love of God needed to be a saint.

Dream of Solomon by Luca Giordano (1634–1705)