Deacon Cornell’s Homily


1 Kings 3:5,7-12
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52


July 27-28, 2002, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

As wise as Solomon. When God grants a request, he does so with abundance. Solomon asks God for wisdom and God makes him the benchmark of wisdom. When I looked up wisdom on, the definition displayed from The American Heritage Dictionary listed as the fifth reference: see the Bible, the wisdom of Solomon.

Wisdom means more than knowing things; it has a strong connotation of acting in a certain way, of living out the knowledge some who is wise has. We often associate wisdom with those who are outside the normal power structures of the world, which is recognition that one who is wise lives life differently from those who are not so wise. The cartoon version of this aspect of wisdom is the guru up on the mountaintop, dispensing wisdom to pilgrims who make the hard journey up the mountain. But even our more serious images of those who are wise are of people who measure success very differently from our culture. The late Jesuit author Anthony DeMello tells a story about Diogenes, the Greek philosopher. Diogenes was not a favorite of the king because he did not always agree with him. One day another philosopher, who led a very comfortable life in the king’s court because he always agreed with the king, came upon Diogenes just as Diogenes was about to have a meal of bread and lentil beans. He chided Diogenes, “If you would learn to agree with the king, you would not have to live on lentil beans. Diogenes wisely responded, “If you learned to live on lentil beans, you would not always have to agree with the king.”

Wisdom also has this connotation of knowledge built up over generations, an accumulation of understanding. This says two things about wisdom. The first is that wisdom is organic; it is not static. It grows by the addition of new experience and knowledge to that of previous generations. The second is that by having a foundation of knowledge that has been proven over time, wisdom reduces the risk of going off in completely wrong directions.

Like the householder Jesus talks about, one who is wise brings both old and new things out of the storehouse, resulting in more wisdom. This aspect of wisdom is very important during times of crisis as there is in the Church at this time. Sparked by this crisis, we are seeing a revitalization of the faithful, a renewed interest in the workings of the Church by the laity. Todays reading should inspire us to encourage that this revitalization proceed with wisdom. There are many ways to encourage this; we have suggested two in particular: participation in the two evening presentation of the role of the laity in the Church here at St. Isidore in August, and reading and later discussion of Tom Groome’s book, What Makes Us Catholics. In that book, Professor Groome describes a healthy faith as a dialog between the experience of our life and what he calls the Christian Story, the combination of Scripture and Tradition. Wise advances in faith always take all three into account.

We have so many examples of the damage that results when any of these are left out. Solomon himself is a prime example. After a while he forgot Tradition, in this case, the covenant God had made with his father David. His wisdom turned to power and pride, and the wisest man in history betrayed the covenant and started building temples to foreign gods on the hills around Jerusalem. As a result, Israel fell into disarray and finally exile.

In the reformation, the reformers reacted to serious abuses of Tradition by ignoring Tradition and focusing primarily on Scripture. In reaction, the Catholic Church left out experience and, to some extent, Scripture. As a result, after 400 years of this we have a weak Christian faith that has diminished in its ability to affect creation positively.

This dialog between our experience and Scripture and Tradition requires some work to get it right. We cannot have the dialog unless we know what is in Scripture and Tradition. Ironically, most Catholics that I know do not have a good grasp of either Scripture or Tradition. Their primary faith knowledge is experience. We know our faith through attendance at Mass and other sacraments, whatever prayer life we might have.  And even if we attended Catholic school or religious ed classes, what we carry with us from that is not what we learned in class but the experience of being in Catholic school or religious ed classes. But if you were to test us on the Ten Commandments, or church history, or scripture knowledge, or even basic theology we would fail miserably. So I would pray that all who are energized by this crisis to promote change start by immersing themselves in the Christian Story of Scripture and Tradition.

The dialogue also requires we have a healthy understanding of experience. One of the characteristics of our Catholic faith is that we see the sacred in the ordinary things of life. But do we really see that on an individual level? Do we see anything divine in our daily lives, in what we do on a day-to-day basis? I would suggest that the answer to that hinges on our fundamental understanding of who God is and who we are. If we see God as a stern judge, always on the look out to catch us messing up, then our life becomes a big test. We are always trying to earn God’s love by what we do, or we give up since we can’t ever seem to do things right. If we see God as Paul sees him in that passage from Romans, we see a God who has desired our glory from the very beginning. He is a lavish God who showers us with grace here in this world, and eternal joy in the next. The line right after the passage we heard read is “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our efforts to live a good life are not a tedious burden we endure to earn heaven, but a loving response to the love God lavishes on us.

To illustrate, here are two different ways of understanding the first parable that Jesus tells us this morning. Jesus tells us that this man found a treasure buried in a field. He hides the treasure and then goes and sells all he has and buys the field. One way of understanding this parable is the treasure is the kingdom of God and we are the man. Since the kingdom of God is so valuable, we should do all that it takes to acquire it. I think it is very easy to slip from that simple understanding to a realization that obtaining this treasure requires an extraordinary effort, like selling all we have. Who is able to do such an extraordinary thing as selling all we have?

Last year during one of the family sessions with the First Eucharist class, we had this parable as the reading. When I asked what the man symbolized and what the treasure symbolized, every adult gave the version we just talked about. But almost every child there said that the man was God, and the treasure was us. So what the parable says is that the kingdom of God is about God finding human beings to be such a treasure buried in this world, that he went and sold all he had, his only begotten son, so that he might have this treasure. This is what Jesus meant when he said that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of God.

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