17th Sunday in O.T. (A); July 27, 2014
1 Kgs 3:5,7-12 Ps 119 Rom 8:28-30 Mt 13:44-52
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
(God says to Solomon in our first reading, “Ask for anything, and I will give it to you.” What would you say if you heard that invitation? Solomon asks for wisdom and not for more wealth, praise or victory over his enemies. Why is his response so pleasing to God?)
The first reading from Kings presents us the figure of Solomon, the son and successor of King David. It presents him in the beginning of his reign, when he was very young. Solomon inherited a very demanding task as his father had done so much for the Chosen People as he (1) gathered all the Twelve Tribes of Israel into one nation, (2) overcame Israel’s enemies, (3) made Jerusalem the capitol and laid plans for the building of the Temple, and (4) ushered in a period of glory and prosperity. There was a lot of responsibility that lay on his shoulders, especially for someone so young. His situation reminds me of the comment ‘49er Coach George Seifert’s wife made after her husband succeeded the legendary Bill Walsh: “Don’t screw up.”
Solomon began his reign by offering God a solemn sacrifice. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night and was told, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you” (1 Kgs 3:5). Here we see the greatness of Solomon appear. He did not ask for a long life, more wealth, elimination of his enemies. Instead, he said to the Lord, “Give your servant…an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (v. 9). Of all the things that Solomon could have asked for, he asked for “an understanding heart.” That’s what was so important to Solomon that nothing else would trump. What would you say if you heard that invitation? What is your Ultimate Concern?
The 1991 film City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal explores this question in a fascinating, cinematic way. The adventure begins in the heart of New York City, where a thoroughly urbanized, stressed out, and jaded executive is struggling to find meaning in his life. His two best friends have the perfect cure: a “fantasy vacation” where they can be cowboys on a real-life cattle drive.
The drive is lead by a delightful, no-nonsense, in-your-face cowboy by the name of ‘Curly,’ played by Jack Palance, who played the bad-guy in Shane. On the trail, Mitch asks Curly, who seems to have things together, “What is life about?”
Curly’s reply was, “None of you city slickers get it. You know what the secret of life is?” He then raises his index finger. “What? Your finger,” the perplexed Mitch replies.
“One thing. Just one thing. You stick with that and everything else means “rubbish” (not the exact word, but you get the point).
Raising his index-finger, the Crystal character asks, “What is the one thing?” to which Curly responds, “That’s for you to figure out.”
Brothers, have you figured it out? As the parables in the Gospel reading challenge us, have you found the treasure hidden in the field; have you found the pearl of great price?
Solomon was moving in the right direction as he asked for “an understanding heart.” What do those simple words mean? We know in the Bible that the ‘heart’ is not only a physical part of the body, but also the center of the person: it’s the foundation from which all the person’s intentions, priorities, and commitments flow from. We might say that the heart represents the person’s conscience that knows how to listen to the Word of God, that is sensitive to the voice of Truth amidst so much chatter, clutter, and white noise. Such a person can discern right from wrong and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can walk the right path wherever they may be.
Solomon asked for an understanding heart because he was motivated by the responsibility of leading his people well—of continuing the legacy of his father David. Israel was not like other nations; instead, they were the Chosen People who would be the vehicle that God would reveal his plan for salvation. The King of Israel, therefore, had to be in tune with God, listening to his Word, in order to guide the people in the paths of the Lord—the path of justice and peace.
Brothers, put yourself in Solomon’s shoes here and now in Folsom Prison. How would you have responded? You have a conscience and, by virtue of your baptism, you are called to be a “king” in a certain way. How do you exercise power in your condition? Do you do it in the way of the dominant culture which is one of control, manipulation, and intimidation? Or, do you use it according to your dignity as a child of God, as a member of the Body of Christ, the Church? Do you exercise power with an upright conscience, doing what is right and avoiding wrong?
As members of the People of God, the Church, we are in radical need of God’s grace if we are going to do the Father’s will . Each one of us has our own part to play in the great Vision of Salvation History and you play your part in the concrete situation you find yourself. A selfish response to God’s invitation would have been something that would favorably benefit you. But, the true quality of a good life is not the freedom from external constraints; it’s not a matter of having security or safety; it’s not about having “juice” or a big reputation.
It is about having “an understanding heart,” a right conscience in which we can recognize what is the right thing to do, separating it from wrong, and patiently seeking to put our Gospel values into practice, thereby contributing to justice and peace within this prison. And, since the Church is a living organism with Christ as our Head, whatever good you do here benefits the universal Church. In Christ, your life is purposeful, meaningful, and grace-filled.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, for help in this. Endeavor. Mary is the Mother of God and therefore she is the Mother of the Church. She is our Mother. So, through her example and through her intercession, she leads us into a deeper relationship with her Son. Mary always said “Yes” to God’s will. May she help us form in ourselves a conscience that is open to grace, a conscience that can be open to the truth, that is sensitive to justice, and to serve in the Kingdom of God right here and now. Amen.