Seeking Understanding for the Mysteries of the Kingdom
Readings: 1st: I Kg 3: 5. 7-12; Ps 118; 57.72-77.127; 2nd: Rom 8, 28-30; Gos Mtt 13, 44-52
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is the 17th Sunday of Ordinary time and in it, the Church encourages us to pray for understanding and wisdom in order to enable us discern the true value of things especially the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, she reminds us that the greatest of all treasures is the Kingdom of God. If we gain it, we gain all, whereas, if we lose it we lose all. In light of this, we must pull together all the energies in us in order to ensure that we get it. This is especially given the fact that God himself has chosen us and prepared it for us before time. However, we must avail ourselves of the opportunity presented to us by God through asking as Solomon did as well as by working and walking our way into the Kingdom.
Today’s first reading began in a very interesting way. Interesting in the sense that it resembles a situation where a very poor man is suddenly given an open check and asked to fill in any amount he feels like having, and it will be all his. If you my brethren were Solomon what would you ask for? Best cars, houses, shoes, foods, more money in your account, to be made the world’s president, power, children and the likes of these I suppose! Today however, Solomon rather than ask for material wealth asked for wisdom and understanding, something that would benefit his earthly kingdom and of course the kingdom of God in his people’s heart. He begged God to give him understanding: “Give therefore your servant understanding…” By this, he simple means: “give me that which is necessary for the services in which I am employed by you.” An understanding heart is God’s gift (Proverbs 2:6). So we must ask and pray for it (James 1:5)! We must like Solomon say to God: “Give me an understanding”, not to please my own curiosity with, or puzzle my neighbours, but to know the right thing and do it, an excellent sense of judgment. That is, the best knowledge that will be serviceable to us in doing our duty. It enables us to discern between good and bad, right and wrong, sin and duty, truth and falsehood, so as not to be imposed upon by false colors in judging either of others’ actions or of our own. It will also keep us attuned to the things of the Kingdom. If like Solomon we make a pleasing request to God, definitely he will bless us. Therefore, we are to learn the following from Solomon: that the way to obtain spiritual blessings is to be unrelenting in our request for them, to wrestle with God in prayer for them, as Solomon did for wisdom only because it is important for his service and ministry. Solomon was given wisdom because he did ask for it and, wealth because he did not ask for it. The more we abound in God’s work the more comfort we may expect in him, the more his glory will shine on us, and we will hear a voice saying to us, Ask for what you need, I shall give it to you. Solomon did not neglect God’s offer. Instead he made a pious request to God. He readily laid hold of this offer. So we too must not neglect it in our lives, like Ahaz, who said, I will not ask? (Isaiah 7:12).When God says ask it shall be given to you… (Matt 7: 7), he means every bit of it. However, he expects us to ask reasonably, according to his mind and not selfishly. Also, our request must benefit us and others for the Kingdom of God.
In the second reading, Paul reminds us that: “By turning everything to their good God cooperates with all those who love him…” Commenting on Rom 8, 28 Raymond Ortlund writes that: “The hand of God is at the helm. He’s steering us through the storms of life toward home, toward a safe haven (in his kingdom). And He takes care to order all the events of our lives right now to speed us on our way there. This is what we call Providence, God’s overruling hand at work everywhere in a fallen world. The Providence of God is clearly taught from one end of the Bible to the other. And our confidence in the Providence of God is a faith so bold, so demanding, so unapologetic, that we cannot believe it without being transformed. Either all things work together for our good, or nothing makes sense. So let’s be bold about it. “All things” is utterly comprehensive, having no qualifications or limits. Neither this verse nor its context allows for restrictions or conditions. “All things” is inclusive in the fullest possible sense. It includes your present trouble, your aching head, your heavy heart, your joblessness, bareness, poverty, sickness, etcetera – “All things, “everything” and nothing left out! Nothing existing or occurring in heaven or on earth “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (8:39). There is nothing idle in God’s domain. “All things work together.” There is no discord in the providence of God. The strangest ingredients go to make up the one matchless medicine for all our maladies. “It suffices to note that Paul is not saying that God prevents His children from experiencing things that can harm them as most prosperity preachers would interpret this passage today. He is rather attesting that the Lord takes all that He allows to happen to His beloved children, even the worst things, and turns those things ultimately into blessings. No matter what our situation, our suffering, our persecution, our sinful failure, our pain, our lack of faith-in those things, as well as in all other things, our heavenly Father will work to produce our ultimate victory and blessing. The corollary of that truth is that nothing can ultimately work against us.” (MacArthur, J: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Press). Indeed we must be mindful of what Paul means here. He equally indicates that: “They are the ones he chose especially long ago…” Yes all things will work well for us, the chosen. However, what guarantees this promise is that we must continue to pay allegiance of love to God over and above all things, because it is for: “All those who love him.” Therefore, we must constantly polish our love for God and for things of the kingdom. Indeed, God has already earmarked us for heaven, but it does not preclude the fact that we must ask for it, seek, and find it. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2, 12).
In the gospel of this Sunday and for the third consecutive week Jesus uses parables to speak to us. This he does because he knows that as candidates of the kingdom, we are endowed with the understanding and wisdom required for unraveling the mysteries behind them, appreciate them and consequently find the kingdom. Hence, we must put in every of our time, talent and treasure in order to attain it. The first two parables of this Sunday’s reading are intended to instruct believers to prefer the Kingdom of heaven to the whole world, and therefore to deny themselves all the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent them from obtaining so valuable a possession. We are greatly in need of such a warning; for we are so captivated by the allurements of the world that eternal life fades from our view; and in consequence of our carnality, the spiritual graces of God are far from being held by us in the estimation which they deserve. Justly, therefore, does Christ speak in such lofty terms of the excellence of eternal life that we ought not to feel uneasiness at relinquishing, on account of it, whatever we reckon in other respects to be valuable. The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world, and from the most wise and prudent in it. He that finds this treasure, (perhaps when he thought it far from him) hides it deep in his heart, and gives up all other happiness for it.” If we lack wisdom and understanding we cannot understand the parables of this Sunday which focuses on the need for us to seek the kingdom of God as the most valuable of all treasures. Jesus knew this very well and so asks his disciples: “Have you understood all this?” He asked this question because he was fully away that only those with the understanding that come from God can grasp the meaning of the parables of the kingdom. Let us therefore this Sunday ask for this understanding as Solomon asked, so that the kingdom might not elude us owing to sheer ignorance.
Peace be with you all!