The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

First Reading I Kings 3:5,7-12
Second Reading Romans 8:28-30
Gospel Matthew 13:44-52

“…all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”

Ten centuries before Christ, the son of David became the King of Israel. Solomon was a young man. He realized his lack of experience and his lack of ability to govern Israel. The Lord told him to ask for any gift, and it would be granted.

Solomon could have asked for wealth, since with immense wealth he could buy off any kingdom that got in his way. Or he could have asked for absolute power, since he could then destroy any kingdom that got in his way. He could have asked for any number of things. But he asked for wisdom.

Wisdom is insight into the meaning of things. Such meaning manifests itself chiefly when Wisdom shows how everything fits together: how everything has its place. This wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is through the providential power of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul’s words in today’s Second Reading are true: “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” This purpose we can consider as God’s providential will, which converges in Christ. St. Paul explains this as he continues: “those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn”.

However, before the advent of this firstborn, the Old Testament already held seven books called the “Wisdom Literature”: the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Song of Songs, and Sirach (incidentally, these are some of the best books of the Bible for spiritual reading). The Wisdom of Israel was unlike the wisdom taught by many ancient cultures, and is also unlike the “conventional wisdom” upon which our society operates today.

The Wisdom of Israel isn’t based on self-interest or self-promotion. It is founded upon nothing and no one other than the Lord God Himself. If God is part of our lives, then even if our life seems a puzzle, we have reason to hope, even when our eyes and ears suggest otherwise. It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand every piece of the puzzle. God teaches us, over time, to move this piece of the puzzle over here, and that piece there. In time, we see emerging the picture God has had in His Mind all along.

Psalm 111:10 tells us that “the fear of the Lord” is the beginning of sharing in divine wisdom. But wisdom is not some “pie in the sky” virtue. It’s eminently practical. The contemplation of God Himself—in all His goodness—can help us to form a “most certain judgment” about questions before us in daily life. From there, “all things should be set in order”, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains about the gift of wisdom.

On a practical level, when we look with an honest eye at the way we spend our lives as sojourners in this world here below, we notice that we treasure many things in life. But our minds are so often crowded with our hopes that we fail to see that God has planted in our midst most of what we need. In other words, most of the things for which we petition God are wants, not needs. An important part of the first stage of the spiritual life, traditionally called the “purgative way”, is allowing God to purify our hearts of needless wants. The wise person’s desires do not reach beyond his or her true needs.