If you were approached by God, as was Solomon, and told: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you,” how would you respond? Would you ask for money? A happy family? Good health? World peace? Solomon asked for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Without minimizing the selfless character of his request, we should remember that, as king, he had no need of more riches. However, he certainly could have asked for a more expansive kingdom, a better economy, or even revenge on his enemies. Instead, he asked for the disposition needed to serve his people well. Whether this actually happened or not, the account does pose an interesting question. How would you respond?
What is it that we ask of God? I doubt that I am the only one who, sometime in life, prayed to pass a test, or for good picnic weather, or to be chosen for what I might have considered an honor. As important as such prayers might have seemed at the moment, if I were to be honest with myself, I would have to admit that they were certainly quite trivial when you look at the whole scheme of things. But then, to what extent do we really know what counts in life? It takes great insight to realize what it is we should treasure in life and what is not worthy of us. This is particularly difficult when society assaults us with values that are really disvalues. Perhaps we should all pray for “an understanding heart.”
Today’s gospel contains three parables, three wisdom stories that provide glimpses into the nature of the reign of heaven. The first two lend themselves to this particular reflection. The metaphors of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price point to the inestimable value of the reign of God. Who wouldn’t be willing to give up all else in order to attain the treasure or the pearl? Even reading the parables literally, we know that these are complicated situations. How did the person know that the treasure or the pearl were there in the first place? And what if that person did not have enough resources to make the sale? In other words, we need attentiveness to discover the treasures, insight to realize that they are worth everything else we might possess and more, and enough courage to make the changes required for obtaining what we desire. How do we stand in this regard? Do we consider the reign of God worth the effort?
What is this reign of heaven for which we should be willing to give up all else? It is a way of living life here and now, not merely a state of being that will unfold after death. It is a life of faithful commitment; it is a life of integrity, of trust in God and service of others. It is the kind of life Solomon wanted for his people, a life that can distinguish right from wrong. It is the kind of life that the psalmist sought; a life lived in harmony with the law. Paul describes this life as one lived in conformity to the image of God’s own Son. One cannot help but ask a further question: ‘If we are finally able to acquire the treasure or the pearl, do we hug it to ourselves, thinking that it is ours and ours alone? Or are we like Solomon, who thought that the only real treasure was unselfish service to others?
Paul further states that God foreknew, then predestined, then called, justified and glorified those committed to live in this way. This passage has troubled many people down through the ages. We do not usually have difficulty understanding what is meant when we say that God called, justified, and glorified. We are probably not even bothered with the idea of divine foreknowledge. It is with the notion of predestination that we sometimes struggle. However, predestination does not mean that only some were chosen to be saved, and some were not. We are accustomed to the idea that all are foreknown by God. Paul is very clear that God’s call is made to all. Therefore, we can rightly conclude all those called and foreknown are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.” In other words, all people are meant to be justified and glorified; all people are given the opportunity to discover the treasure buried in the field or the pearl of great price; all people are prompted to sell what they have in order to acquire the fortune. The cost may be great. The parable suggests that we will have to give up everything else. However, Paul reminds us “all things work for good for those who love God.”
Dianne Bergant, CSA