17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

First reading: 1 Kgs. 3:5,7–12

The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

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.”

Second reading: Rom. 8:28–30

Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

Gospel: Mt. 13:44–46

Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

In other words

by Fr. Randy Flores, SVD (Sacred Heart Parish Shrine, Kamuning, Quezon City)

What is wisdom? In my class in Old Testament literature, a course that I have been teaching since 1999, I tell my students to have this one as a working definition: “Practical knowledge of the ways of life and of the world is based on experience.” The definition came from Gerard von Rad, a well-known biblical scholar in the 60s. What Solomon had asked from God, to put simply then, is common sense, rather than riches, honor, and long life. In the Bible, wisdom alias common sense is founded on the fear of the Lord. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is a favorite teaching of the Old Testament sages.

The reign of King Solomon in the First Book of Kings ended in a catastrophe. The historian in 1 Kings 11, the last chapter in the Solomon cycle (Chapters 1–11), narrates the deep turmoil in the kingdom. Solomon has become the number one idolater. He even leads the building of worship places in Jerusalem for Chemosh and Molek, two of the detestable gods of the Gentiles. In the prophetic books, the sin of idolatry is deeply connected with the violation of MISHPAT (or social justice). Solomon has built his kingdom, increased his wealth, and cemented his power at the expense of the weak and the poor. He imposed heavy taxation on the people and resorted to corvée or forced labor.

The historian’s judgment on the behavior of the king is harsh but true: “Solomon did what was evil (HARA’ in Hebrew) in the sight of the Lord, and he was not a wholehearted follower of the Lord, as his father David had been” (v.8). Consequently, the Lord is now furious at Solomon, allows rebellion in the king’s court, and pronounces a curse on the fate of Solomon’s kingdom: “I will surely tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant” (v.11). Right away, the curse fulfills its way into the kingdom which has split into two after Solomon’s death.

What happened to the wisdom of Solomon? He was not wise after all!

Wisdom then is not just technical knowledge, administrative skill, increase of wealth, nor the preservation of power. Since it is a divine gift, wisdom necessarily involves a deep commitment with the God of Israel in which the promotion of social justice (MISHPAT) is an essential demand. That is why the sages in the Old Testament kept on reminding their learners that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

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