A reflection on the Mass readings for Sunday, July 26, 2020.
One of the dialogue lessons in my Spanish learning app is the story of a girl who, while looking around in the attic, accidentally discovers an antique lamp. As she cleans it, a genie suddenly appears. The genie gave the girl three wishes. The girl’s first wish was that all the stray animals may find shelter. The genie was surprised that she did not wish for the usual things that girls her age would ask. The genie obliged. Then he asked her, “Do you not want to be famous?” She replied, “No, but can you make sure that the river in my city is clean again?” He grants her second wish as well, but then he asks if she would like some brand-new outfits. Again, she refused to ask for anything for herself. Rather, she wished that her uncle who was ill would be healed!
Impressed at how selfless the girl was, the genie decided to give her a fourth bonus wish. Then, to the great dismay of the genie, her fourth wish was that the genie would grant her a thousand wishes. Her first wish of this thousand wishes was that he would address her as “Your Highness”! Her second and third wishes were for a new car and that she might indeed he famous!
This sounds like an improbable story. However, the story of God and Solomon in today’s first reading is very similar. God said to Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” The rest is history. We must recall, though, that Solomon’s story also has an ironic ending.
I invite you to use your power of imagination. If God gave you the same opportunity that God gave to Solomon, what would you wish? When I started writing this, I said to myself that I would ask God to end the pandemic and heal everybody who is ill. And then I paused.
Before I continue my story, we must recall that the Gospel readings the last two Sundays have focused on Jesus’ parables. Over the last two Sundays heard five parables, and today we hear two more. Both of today’s parables begin with the same words: “The kingdom of God is like…” Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples, “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you…” (Mt 13:11). Today’s parables along with Solomon’s story have much to teach us.
Solomon was young when he assumed the throne. Given the opportunity by God, Solomon asked God for this one favor: “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (1 Kings 3:9). Solomon’s humility impressed God. God gave Solomon not only what he wished for, but also “riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days” (1 Kings 3:13). With the use of God’s gifts, Solomon secured the nation, built the Temple of Jerusalem, and wrote exemplary literature. He became legendary. But just like the girl in the story, Solomon lost sight of God and the purpose of the kingdom in God’s eyes. Drunk with power, wealth, and fame, Solomon wasted God’s gifts. Despite being the wisest and most blessed man on the earth, his personal vanity led to him to trade God’s gifts for earthly gain. Ultimately, his lifestyle, his choices, and his priorities led to the division of the kingdom of Israel.
In the Gospel reading two Sundays ago, the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. His response was, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted” (Mt 13:11). In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Solomon did exactly the opposite. God had given Solomon an insight into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. He squandered it all.
To understand life, we must understand Jesus’ parable about the buried treasure. In my estimation, this brief parable is the most significant of all Jesus’ parables. How easy it is to become like Solomon or that girl in the Spanish lesson! How easy it is to trade the kingdom of heaven for a nation! How easy it is to trade the values of the Kingdom of Heaven for power, wealth, fame, and control! How easy it is to make it about us rather than about the Kingdom of God! How easy it is to lose sight of God’s vision for the world and instead create a world that serves our myopic vision!
This is the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven – that the Kingdom belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers, and the clean of heart. When Jesus finished telling these parables, he asked his disciples this question: “Do you understand all these things?” (Mt 13:51). Today Jesus asks us the same question, “Do you understand these things?”
That brings me back to my story. I said earlier, that if I was given a Solomon-like opportunity, my instinctive wish was that God would rid the world of the pandemic and heal everyone who is ill. After all, I am waiting for the pandemic to end so that that I might be able to travel home to India and be with my mother. As tempting as this was, I paused. I asked myself, “If God would end the pandemic and heal everyone, would that solve the problem? If we do not change our lifestyles, our choices, our geopolitics, our economics, and the way we treat the environment and each other, how can we be sure that there will not be another virus, or yet another, more destructive pandemic? Are we sure that the post-coronavirus world will be better? Will our post-pandemic world be free of racism, inequality, hunger, and misery? Will our post-pandemic world ensure that every human person is treated with his or her God-given dignity from the womb to the tomb? Will a post-pandemic world be free of nationalistic fascism, gun violence, arms race, or the threat of war? Will the end of the pandemic ensure that no child is ever abused in the Church or anywhere else? Will the end of the pandemic give us a world where people see the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the stranger, and see Christ in them? Will the post-pandemic world be a world where we care for God’s creation and stop its destruction?”
Rather than simply wishing for an end to the pandemic, I decided I would wish that the entire human race may have the wisdom to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the only prayer that Jesus taught us, he taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven!” (Mt 6:10). If God gave me a Solomon-like opportunity, on behalf of all humanity I would wish: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven!”
The answer to the pandemic and everything else that ails our life and our world is for every human person to surrender our own kingdoms and welcome God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” That is indeed the treasure buried in the field.