Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Conformed to the Image

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

St. Dominic, Fra Angelico

1 KNGS 3:5, 7-12; PS 119: 57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130; ROM 8:28-30; MT 13:44-52

“Lord, I love your commands . . . . The revelation of your words sheds light.”

Our Psalm for this Sunday takes us deeper into the power of faith. God calls us not just to vaguely like him, but to listen to him, and learn. His word enlightens our path.

***

The first reading is Solomon’s prayer. “I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. . . . Who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

Solomon recognizes that the task to which God calls him exceeds human intelligence. This is vivid for Solomon, who has to rule a “vast people.” But it is true for us, too: what does it mean to instantiate God’s love, in the myriad complexities of my life? With work responsibilities, and a house, and a culture that is really hard to figure out how to engage, and a family, and complicated people . . . who is up to this task?

But Solomon does not throw up his hands. Nor does he say, “I’ll just try hard, and trust you to take care of it.” No, God calls him deeper, to a share in his providence. God does not call Solomon to let God be king. God calls Solomon himself to be king, to share in God’s care for his creation – and so to enter into God’s own wisdom.

So Solomon’s prayer is, although “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.” Understanding. Distinguishing.

And God grants him light. He lets him see the path he should walk on. “Lord, I love your commands . . . . The revelation of your words sheds light.”

***

The Gospel reading concludes Matthew’s sermon of parables. We have the treasure buried in a field, and the pearl of great price. We all know that part of the meaning of these parables is that God is a treasure worth selling everything else to acquire.

But these parables go deeper, also into the intellectual component of Christian faith.

With the treasure buried in a field, Jesus says, “a person finds and hides again” and then goes to buy the field. This person is tricky, clever.

With the pearl, the character is “a merchant.” He’s not just acquiring something great. He’s clever, a wise businessman.

Next comes the “net thrown into the sea” (not as popular a parable), and “what is bad they throw away.” Like Solomon, those who use a net must “distinguish right from wrong.” They have to be clever.

And finally comes, “the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Whatever else this parable is about, this householder, again, is wise, able to distinguish, clever enough to meet his situation.

***

Earlier in this discourse, Jesus said, “blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, for they hear.” “Lord, I love your commands . . . . The revelation of your words sheds light.”

Jesus asks us not just to love him, but to be clever. Indeed, true love has to be clever. True love wants to figure out how to love, concretely. True love must be wise.

And so God gives us wisdom. Not just the command to love him, but the light to know how to love him.

***

Our reading from Romans gives us the punchline. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God . . . .” Yes, the heart of the matter is love. Love is all that matters.

But love is concrete. The sentence continues, “. . . who are called according to his purpose.” He calls us in a particular way, to instantiate his wisdom, to be part of his plan. Not just vaguely to love, but to share in his purpose.

We are called “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be as Jesus is. Which is not vague, but incarnate, and wise. “So that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” To be as Jesus is, to share in his way of seeing, to share in his good counsel, to live out his purposes and his plan.

“Lord, I love your commands. . . . The revelation of your words sheds light.”

Can you think of places in your life where true love requires divine wisdom? Give thanks to God that he gives us that wisdom, in his Word and in his Spirit, dwelling within us.

eric.m.johnston

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