Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 Jul 2020
Rev. Robin Ryan, CP

Reading 1: 1 Kings 3-5, 7-12
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Reading 2: Romans 8:28-30
Gospel: Matthew 13:44-52, or 44-46

Pandemics have a way of forcing us to examine our priorities. They compel us to take a long look at the choices that are set before us. Should I send my child back to school in the fall, or not? Should I take a trip on an airplane? How do we re-start the economy in a way that does not risk lives? What can we do to alleviate the disparities among races that lead to greater rates of illness and death among our African-American and Latino brothers and sisters?

Like many other families these days, my family recently had to make a choice – whether to have a funeral or not. My sister Marilyn died from Alzheimer’s disease two weeks ago in Georgia. We had originally planned to have funeral services in Virginia and Georgia, but the risks associated with travel and congregating led us to postpone those services. It was a sensible decision, but one that makes it harder to experience the familial support needed at a time of loss.

The Scripture readings for this Sunday speak to us about priorities and choices. When in a dream God promises to grant Solomon any request he wishes to make, the young Solomon asks for an “understanding heart,” so that he can judge God’s people justly and distinguish right from wrong. Because he has his priorities straight, Solomon becomes the model of true wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Gospel passage from Matthew also focuses on recognizing and choosing what is truly important. As usual, Jesus uses “homey” images. At a time when people did bury their treasures in fields for the sake of security, he invites his listeners to imagine the person who discovers such a treasure and goes off and sells everything so that he can buy the field. And Jesus lifts up the merchant who searches near and far and then actually finds a pearl of great price. He, too, sells everything so that he can buy that pearl. The emphasis in these illustrations is the joy that comes with the discovery of what is truly valuable.

The twist in all of this, of course, is the realization that the pearl of great price is the Kingdom of Heaven, which is Matthew’s name for the Reign of God. The proclamation of God’s reign is what impels Jesus in everything that he says and does. It is living in and for the Reign of God that gives a person true joy. When Jesus talks about the Reign of God he is naming the transforming presence of God in our lives and our world. Discovering the Reign of God means coming to recognize and experience the indomitable love and indescribable closeness of God – the God who has become one with us in the person of Jesus. It means realizing that we belong to God and that God cherishes each one of us. The German theologian and cardinal Walter Kasper describes the Reign of God as the sovereignty of God’s love. The Reign of God “happens” when God’s love is the governing force in our lives and relationships.

The gift of the Kingdom is meant to be given away. It must be made present in and through the priorities we set and the choices we make. We live in a world that is gripped by a pandemic; in a country grappling with the poisonous legacy of racism; in a city where every Monday morning newscasters give us the “count” of the victims of violence from the preceding weekend. And so at the Eucharist we pray with longing and even with heartache, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As we utter the words of this prayer, we are called to be witnesses to a “kingdom” way of life: a way of respect for the dignity of every person; a way that seeks reconciliation amidst conflict; a way that promotes justice and healing for those who are oppressed; a way that rejoices in the faithful love of God.


Rev. Robin Ryan, CP
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Director of Master of Arts in Theology Program