17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Modern society often seeks solutions, but in many times it has stopped seeking wisdom. Today’s readings remind us that the just and wise society we seek will take shape to the degree in which we strive for and seek the Kingdom of heaven.

Today’s First Reading recalls why King Solomon was considered one of the wisest kings of Israel, so much so that almost all the wisdom literature in the Old Testament was believed to have been written by him. His father David had established a united and prosperous kingdom. It was a tough act to follow. When the Lord offered Solomon help as he began to reign, he didn’t jump straight to specific needs for addressing specific problems: wealth, power, military strength. He knew something would help him address them all: an understanding heart that could distinguish right from wrong. Moral wisdom would not only ensure that he was a good king, but that the good of his subjects under his leadership would endure as well, because the common good is just as important as the good of the individual.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that if we really want things to work out we must love God in all things. Love for God is the wisest course of action. Complex situations, difficulties, and trials all bear the risk of separating us from God, but only if we distance ourselves from him in those moments. Throughout salvation history God has taught us how to face all these things, until finally the Son came and showed us how to face them, all the way to Calvary. In Our Lord we find embodied all the moral wisdom for which Solomon could have hoped, but something even more: the spiritual wisdom and power to be holy. The Lord calls everyone to holiness, and those who respond to the call are put back on track through the grace of justification and, if they persevere in holiness, aided by grace, they will one day be glorified.

The three parables in today’s Gospel teach us about what summarizes, epitomizes, and reflects the moral and spiritual wisdom that the Lord has not only woven into creation, but revealed and announced: the Kingdom of heaven.

First, like a hidden treasure its worth is something that takes us by surprise and is found in the most unexpected of places. In finding it you don’t just feel smart; you feel fortunate. It doesn’t come free, and it doesn’t come cheap: if you’re willing to spend everything on obtaining it, it must be of more value that what you already have. The Kingdom of heaven should put everything we have, everything we are, into perspective. When we invest ourselves completely the returns will be unimaginable.

Second, the Kingdom of heaven, like finding a great pearl after a lifetime of smaller ones, is something comparable to all the things we value in this world, but much greater in comparison. The Kingdom of heaven is not going to be something totally different from the “treasures” we hold and experience in this life. When we seek the true, the good, and the beautiful in this life, we are paving the way for the Kingdom, already present in those things, to come to full fruition.

The final parable reminds us that the Kingdom of heaven will come one day fully for everyone. If we understand the Kingdom as not only the work of salvation, but all the other natural goods that in some way result from that work–a healthy society, solid families, true concern for the spiritual and material needs of others, etc.–we can understand how it is not just identified with the people who are actively working to be a part of it and to extend it. All kinds of “fish” end up in the “net.” Like any society there are good members and bad members, and part of society’s duty is to help all its members be good members of society, even, when necessary, through penal measures applied to those who are bad with the hope of helping them to reform themselves and to not present a danger to themselves or to society.

At the end of history, when the work of the Kingdom has definitively run its course and reached everywhere Our Lord wants it to be (and that, in the end, is everywhere and everyone), no one will remain unaffected or beyond its reach. That could be a chilling thought if we didn’t remember that the Kingdom equates to salvation and a good and just order of things that spreads and takes hold forever. Each person in the end chooses how they’ll end up in the Kingdom, in that “net”: the bad will have squandered all their opportunities to be good and will be cut off from the goods of the Kingdom forever. The good, through their efforts and God’s aid and mercy, will enjoy a beatific life: they will possess God and receive all the promises Our Lord made on the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5:1–12) in full. We must work for the good of others, not just our own good, but in the end each person will stand or fall on his or her own merits and no one will be able to ride on another’s coat tails on Judgement Day.

A rule of life summarizes the rules and principles that you consider important for a happy and successful life. Some are published for the benefit of others, while others are very personal.For some that can simply be a philosophy of life. For others, a specific career goal or achievement that requires preparation and perspiration. For believers, the monastic rules of life, such as the Rule of St. Benedict, can be adapted for living your life more in accord with basic Gospel values. Spend some time this week in prayer to take stock of your life and the rules and principles with which you live it. If you have difficulty sorting things out, consider seeking out a spiritual director.

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7–12; Psalm 119:57, 72, 76–77, 127–130; Romans 8:28–30; Matthew 13:44–52.