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Homily – July 26th, 2020 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

You may or may not have noticed, but there is a connection between today’s 1st reading (1 Kg. 3:5-12) and the gospel (Mt. 13:44-52). It is deliberately set up that way from week to week in the Lectionary. In these two readings we are deterred from seeking or settling for anything that is 2nd best, superficial, or mediocre. These Scripture readings rail against dumbing down your life to some low-stub-your-toe-run-of-the-mill kind of spirituality. What they do, instead, is invite you to reach for your peak, your best self, your truest and deepest self, the self-made in the image and likeness of God, the only self that really exists.

These two readings remind me of quote that says, “Go after a dream that is destined to fail without Divine intervention.” The assumption is that any dream that can succeed without God is too tawdry, too small, too short-lived and will leave you asking, “Is that all there is to life?” But why a “dream?” Because dreams call you forth to a world of bigger possibilities, beyond the mundane, into the world of God. Jesus had a dream that was destined to fail without Divine intervention; it was called the Kingdom of God. Again, why a dream? Because when we dream, we have to relinquish control of our world so that another world can emerge within us without all the resistances we think have to be in place. Perhaps God’s best work when we are asleep and dreaming.

Think of how one of the most famous and most inspiring speeches of all time started. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, before a crowd of 500,000 in Washington D.C. said, “I have a dream!” With those four words he immediately lifted 500, 000 people into a larger world. Had he started off with “I have a strategic plan” every one of those 500, 000 people would have yawned in unison and gone home (homilists know that feeling). Martin Luther King not only had a dream, but he also had quite a task before him. So did young King Solomon whom we heard from in that first reading.

Some 3000 years ago, Solomon’s father, King David, died. David was both God’s choice and the people’s choice, the greatest human king our Jewish ancestors ever knew. So much so that 3000 years later many Jewish parents end up calling their first-born son “David.” Solomon was totally overwhelmed in taking over the throne. He felt overwhelmed because, firstly, his father left such large shoes to fill and, secondly, he was not leading just any people but God’s Chosen People! So, what does he do?

He has a dream (“I have a dream!”) where he turns to God. Why? Because as a new young king he wants only to go after dreams that are destined to fail without Divine intervention. Anything he can accomplish without God’s help is not worthy of him, is too small for him, and is too small for God’s people. He asks God not for riches, or for a long life, or for the destruction of his enemies. No, he asks for wisdom and understanding so he will know the difference between right and wrong. And God was more than happy to grant that to him. His father, David, was the mightiest of kings, but Solomon became the wisest of kings. (Imagine if our politicians, especially those at the highest level, would ask for wisdom and understanding before they were sworn into office!)

This story about Solomon’s request and today’s parables about the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field encourage us to ask God for the big stuff, the stuff dreams are made of, and not the superficial, mediocre stuff we often settle for. When you ask, be prepared to receive the ultimate, but also be prepared, as the gospels says, to let go of what is not the ultimate. When you ask, ask for something you could never accomplish or build on your own as talented as you might be. Ask for food that can feed not only your small family but food that can feed 5000 people with leftovers (that’s next Sunday’s gospel). Ask and settle for nothing less than the impossible. Remember the gospel story of Peter in a boat that was being battered by waves. He desperately looks out for help, but cannot decide whether he sees the Lord walking towards him or a ghost floating on the surface of the water. So, Peter say, “If it is you, Lord, ask me to do the impossible, ask me to walk on the water towards you” (that’s the gospel story two Sundays from now). Among human beings, we ask little of each other, expect little of each other, and we usually get little from each other. God wants us to ask for the impossible and then gives us the ability to do the impossible.

The Lord wants us to ask big things of him with the confidence that big things are the only things God ever wanted to give us in the first place. God is not interested in giving us little red wagons. To ask for so little is actually an insult to God’s generosity. God can only give you one thing, God’s very self, the Holy Spirit. It is the only thing God can give, yet, it is also the biggest, the best, and only thing worthy of you. The late Brennann Manning wrote this, a warning against settling for mediocrity, in his book Abba’s Child: “When belonging to an elite group eclipses the love of God, when I draw life and meaning from any source other than my beloved-ness, I am spiritually dead. When God gets relegated to second place behind any bauble and trinket, I have swapped the pearl of great price for painted fragments of glass.”

At the end of the day, our pearl of great price, our treasure, is not something but Someone. It is nothing less than our relationship with the living God, the one who patiently waits for us to ask, ask, ask, to seek, seek, seek, to knock, knock, knock, and to do it all with the confidence that we will receive everything we need in life. Here is a story from the late Anthony DeMello that illustrates that.    

The wise man had reached the outskirts of the village and settled down under a tree for the night when a villager came running up to him and said, “The stone! The stone! Give me the precious stone!”

“What stone?” asked the wise man.

“Last night God appeared to me in a dream,” said the villager, “And told me that if I went to the outskirts of the village at dusk I should find a wise man who would give me a precious stone that would make me rich forever.”

The wise man rummaged in his bag and pulled out a stone. “He probably meant this one,” he said, as he handed the stone over to the villager. “I found it on a forest path some days ago. You can certainly have it.”

The man gazed at the stone in wonder. It was a diamond, probably the largest diamond in the whole world, for it was as large as a person’s head.

He took the diamond and walked away.  All night he tossed about in bed, unable to sleep. The next day at the crack of dawn he woke the wise man and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give this diamond away so easily.” 

Go after a dream that is destined to fail without Divine intervention.

            Fr. Phil

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