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The Wisdom to Find the Treasure

If you know anything about King Solomon, it is likely what we hear in the Old Testament lesson today – that above riches and power, he preferred wisdom. Or maybe that it was he who constructed the first temple of Jerusalem, following his father David’s consolidation of the Kingdom of Israel. Or maybe that his wisdom earned him opulent splendor, such as the precious stones and spices given to him by the Queen of Sheba.

Solomon’s choice of the gift of understanding – “to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” – is even more surprising if you know how Solomon came to power. Unlike today, when kings had real power, the transition from one king to another – even from father to chosen son – was fraught with conflicts. Relatives of the king, as well as military leaders and important court officials, regularly murdered each other in pursuit of the throne.

David’s elder son, Adonijah, should have been king, but because Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was his favorite wife, he named Solomon his heir instead. Solomon thus has to overcome Adonijah’s claim to the throne, and his reign begins with a brutal series of executions of those who supported Adonijah, his half-brother, including even his father David’s most faithful servant, Joab, who is heartlessly slain while gripping the Lord’s altar. Following this series of assassinations, the Book of Kings dryly comments, “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.”

And while that violent outbreak consolidates Solomon’s power, it exposes him to serious risk. Violence begets violence, and a reign that begins with blood usually ends with blood. So it is truly extraordinary that Solomon does not ask the Lord, “for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies” (meaning really the death of his enemies, of whom there must now be many), “but for understanding so that you may know what is right.”

We usually think of Solomon being wise in order to govern the Kingdom of Israel, deciding difficult cases like that of the two women arguing over the baby of disputed parentage. But Solomon does not desire primarily to know how to resolve difficult cases. He wants to know what is right. Solomon is concerned with “distinguish[ing] right from wrong” because it is necessary for the king to be holy in order to be a great king. He desires to walk in the ways of David his father, upright before the Lord. This is what will give him long life and a blessed reign: doing what is right. Which is to say, that what Solomon most truly desires, is God Himself.

Solomon’s vision, then, is similar to that experienced centuries later by St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest Catholic theologian of the middle ages. Towards the end of his life, after a brilliant career as a university lecturer and author of the fundamental point of reference for the teaching of Catholic theology up until this very day – his Summa of Theology – St. Thomas had an experience that made him believe that all that he had written was merely straw. The Lord appeared to him and said, “Bene scripsi de me, Thoma. Quid vis?” (You have written well of me, Thomas. What do you desire?) And he answered, “Non nisi te, domine” (Nothing but you, oh Lord).

Non nisi te – nothing but You. Both Solomon and St. Thomas found the pearl of great price mentioned in our Lord’s parable in the Gospel today. This Gospel is frequently read on the feast of canonized priests and religious, and we often compare that pearl to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Having discovered something incredible and beautiful in a life of following the Lord more closely, priests and religious leave behind the world to varying degrees to dedicate themselves entirely to the Lord, purchasing with their sacrifices this pearl of great price that is a priestly or religious vocation. (There is actually a young man from another parish in Elkhart County who will do precisely that next month, joining one of the most radical men’s contemplative orders in the world, the monastic Carmelites, abandoning possessions and saying goodbye to his parents at the door of the monastery, thenceforth to be seen only rarely, through the grate of the monastic parlor. A great price to pay, and an incredible prize to be gained -- God Himself.)

But to see that pearl of great price as only a calling or a state in life would be a mistake. The pearl is a person – it is Christ. Non nisi te domine – nothing but You, oh Lord. To sell all to obtain that pearl is actually the calling of every Christian. As St. Paul tells us today, God the Father desires that His Son, Jesus Christ, “be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Everyone made a son or daughter of God by Baptism are “those he predestined [and] also called; … those … called [and] also justified; and those … justified … also glorified.”

While the example of the religious life makes it appear that purchasing of the pearl of great price is a one-time event, the reality is far from being so simple. I was surprised when a faculty member at the seminary, a Dominican friar living a vow of poverty, told us: “Giving away my possessions? That was the easy part! What you do afterwards is the hard part.” He told us that maintaining an attitude of detachment towards the material things entrusted to his use was even more difficult – that this pen, this book, this computer, this habit that I’m wearing – they aren’t actually mine and I have no right to reserve them for myself. Doing that day in and day out is significantly more difficult than signing over a bank account.

The same is true for a priest. Renouncing the great good of marriage for the sake of witnessing to the Kingdom of Heaven is not actually that hard while lying on the floor of the cathedral, waiting for the Bishop to impose his hands and consecrate a man to sacred service. It’s choosing every day to take the Church, in all her frustrating imperfections, as the spotless Bride of Christ, that is the difficult part.

And how much more true is that in the vocation of marriage? To still see one year later, five years later, twenty years later, fifty years later, that very imperfect person who is your spouse as the pearl of great price for whom it was worth it to sell everything – not easy at all.

But we are getting off track again. The pearl of great price that is a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven is not a vocation or a state of life – it is the Lord Himself whom you desire to obtain by following His path for your life in your vocation. He is the Kingdom. Just as to live faithfully that calling you have to choose every day to be faithful to it, so you have to choose every day to be faithful to Him, to desire Him above all else in the fulfillment of your own vocation.

Well how do we do that? It is hard to know even where to begin. How to choose Christ every day is a question that requires the entire Gospel, Catechism, lives of the saints, the writings of every doctor of the Church, etc. etc. etc. But our Lord gives us one clue. After explaining the parables of the Kingdom, He says, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Now this is a very odd way to conclude. If I were there listening, and He stopped right there, I would have said, “Yeeees?”

“Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” That sounds more like the beginning of a new parable, not the conclusion of several. And yet the next thing that St. Matthew tells us is that “when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there.” What an odd note on which to leave them hanging!

Did St. Matthew just leave something out? Is there a part missing? I think not. The point here is that to find, possess, and keep this pearl of great price which is nothing but the Lord Himself, we need the old and the new brought out by the wise head of the household. Which is to say, we need the Church.

Every vocation of every Christian is ultimately an ecclesial vocation, to be lived out within the life of the Church. The Church is the wise householder who knows how to give us what is old and what is new in our quest to find, purchase, and hold on to the pearl of great price. The Church is the place – not merely in the sense of the physical walls of the church building, mind you – where we discover and are sustained in the great adventure of following the Lord.

Within the life of the Church, we receive the gift of understanding, to become truly wise and know what is right and what is wrong, in order to live up to the greatness of our calling as those predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Within the Church, the grace of the sacraments gives us strength far beyond our own efforts to be faithful to the pearl we have obtained. Within the Church, we encounter the other fish caught up in the net – at times struggling to get free, not having chosen to be here, but trying to help each other thrive regardless – learning to be faithful to unchosen obligations.

God the Father desires His Son to be the first of many brethren. If you want to be chosen, called, and glorified, to be able to say with Solomon and St. Thomas that you desire God above all – non nisi te – then you must first be a son or daughter of Christ’s bride, the Church, and come to love the new and the old that She so wisely gives to you.

The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

XVII Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXXIII

Image: Luca Giordano (1634-1705). Solomon's Wisdom

Si conoces algo del Re Solomon, es probablemente lo que escuchamos hoy en la lección del antiguo testamento – que, sobre las riquezas y el poder, prefirió la sabiduría. La elección de Solomon de la sabiduría – “para que sepa gobernar a tu pueblo y distinguir entre el bien y el mal” – es aún más sorprendente si sabes cómo llegó Solomon al poder. Siempre cuando hubo un cambio del rey, hubo muchos conflictos. Los parientes del rey, sus jefes militares y los oficiales del corte regularmente se asesinaron en búsqueda del trono.

El hijo mayor de David, Adonia, debe haber sido rey, pero porque la madre de Solomon, Bathseba, fue la esposa preferida de David, él nombró a Solomon como su heredero en vez de su medio hermano. Entonces, Solomon tiene que superar a Adonia para obtener el trono, y su reino comienza con una serie de ejecuciones brutales de los que apoyaron a su medio hermano, incluso al siervo más fiel de su padre David, Joab, a quien se asesina cruelmente mientras que agarre al altar del Señor. Después de toda esta violencia, el Libro de Reyes dice sencillamente, “y así se estableció el reino en las manos de Solomon.”

Y mientras que esa violencia consolida el poder de Solomon, le expone a mucho riesgo. La violencia engendra violencia, y un reino que empieza con sangre normalmente termina con sangre. Entonces, es realmente extraordinario que Solomon no pide al Señor “una larga vida, ni riquezas, ni la muerte de tus enemigos, sino sabiduría para gobernar.”

Normalmente pensamos en Solomon siendo sabio para gobernar el Reino de Israel, decidiendo casos difíciles como aquello de las dos mujeres discutiendo sobre el bebe de linaje cuestionada. Pero Solomon no desea primariamente saber resolver los casos difíciles. Quiere “distinguir entre el bien y el mal” porque es necesario que el re sea santo para ser un gran rey. Desea caminar en los caminos de David su padre, recto ante el Señor. Es hacer el bien que le dará larga vida y un reino bienaventurado. Qué es decir, que lo que Solomon realmente desea es Dios Mismo.

La visión de Solomon, entonces, es parecido a aquello experimentado siglos después por San Tomás de Aquino, el teólogo católico más importante del medioevo. Al final de su vida, después de una carrera brillante como profesor universitario y autor del texto fundamental de la teología católica hasta hoy en día, San Tomás tuvo una experiencia que le hizo creer que todo lo que había escrito no era más que paja. El Señor le apareció y le dijo, “Bene scripsi de me, Thoma. Quid vis?” (Has escrito bien de Mí, Tomás. ¿Que quieres?). Y Santo Tomás contestó, “Non nisi te, domine.” (Nada más que ti, Señor.)

Non nisi te – nada más que ti. Solomon y Santo Tomás encontraron la perla valiosa de la parábola del evangelio de hoy. Aquel evangelio frecuentemente se lee en las fiestas de los sacerdotes y religiosos canonizados. Habiendo descubierto algo increíble y bello en la vida de seguir más cerquito al Señor, los sacerdotes y religiosos dejan el mundo a diferentes grados para dedicarse totalmente al Señor, comprando con sus sacrificios la perla valiosa que es una vocación sacerdotal o religiosa. (Actualmente hay un joven de aquí en el condado de Elkhart quien hará precisamente esto en agosto, entrando una de las ordenes más radicales, los Carmelitanos monásticos, abandonado los bienes y despidiéndose de sus padres a las puertas del monasterio, desde entonces a verlos raramente, por la reja del parlatorio monástico. Un gran precio para pagar, y un premio increíble para ganar – Dios Mismo.)

Pero ver aquella perla valiosa solamente como un llamado o estado de vida sería una equivocación. La perla es una persona – es Cristo. Non nisi te domine – nada más que ti, Señor. Vender todo para obtener la perla valiosa es realmente el llamado de todo cristiano. Como San Pablo nos dice hoy, Dios Padre quiere que Su Hijo Jesucristo, “sea el primogénito entre muchos hermanos.” Cado uno hizo hijo de Dios por el bautismo son los predestinados, llamados, justificados y glorificados.

Mientas que el ejemplo de la vida religiosa lo hace parece que la compra de la perla valiosa sea un evento de una vez en la vida, la realidad no es tan sencilla. Uno de los formadores en el seminario, un padre Dominico viviendo el vota de pobreza me sorprendió cuando nos dijo, “¿Deshacerme de mis bienes? ¡Aquella fue la parte fácil! Lo que uno hace después es la parte difícil. Nos dijo que lo realmente difícil ha sido mantener una actitud de despagamiento a las cosas materiales encomendadas a su uso – que esta pluma, este libro, esta computadora, este hábito que estoy llevando – no son míos y no tengo derecho a reservarlos para mí mismo. Hacer esto cado día es mucho más difícil que ceder la cuenta del banco.

El mismo es verdadero para el sacerdote. Renunciar al gran bien del matrimonio para dar testimonio al Reino del Cielo (donde el matrimonio ya no existirá), no es realmente tan difícil en comparación con la obligación cotidiana de tomar cada día a la Iglesia, en todas sus imperfecciones frustrantes, como la Esposa de Cristo sin mancha.

¿Y cuánto aún más sería el caso con el matrimonio? A ver todavía después de un año, cinco años, veinte años, cincuenta años, a aquella persona muy imperfecta quien es su esposo o esposa como la perla valiosa quien vale vender todo para obtener – no es fácil por nada.

Pero nos estamos desviando del punto. La perla valiosa que es un símbolo del Reino del Cielo no es una vocación ni estado de vida – es el Señor Mismo a quien el cristiano desea obtener a través de seguir el camino del Señor para su vida en su vocación. Él es el Reino. Cada día tenemos que elegir ser fiel a Él, a desear a Él sobre todo en el cumplimiento de la vocación.

¿Y cómo se hace esto? Nos da una clave. Después de explicar las parábolas del Reino, dice, “Por eso, todo escriba instruido en las cosas del Reino de los cielos es semejante al padre de familia, que va sacando de su tesoro cosas nuevas y cosas antiguas.” Es una manera realmente extraña para concluir. De hecho, parece más un nuevo inicio, como nos va a decir otra parábola. Pero no – es Su conclusión.

El Señor está diciendo que para encontrar, poseer y mantener esta perla valiosa que no es más que Él Mismo, necesitamos lo antiguo y lo nuevo sacado por el bueno padre de familia. Es decir, necesitamos a la Iglesia.

Cada vocación de cada cristiano es en el fondo una vocación eclesial, que se vive por dentro de la Iglesia. La Iglesia es el sabio padre de familia que sabe dar lo antiguo y lo nuevo en nuestra búsqueda de encontrar, comprar y tener la perla valiosa. La Iglesia es el lugar – no meramente en el sentido físico del templo – donde encontramos y estamos sostenidos en la gran aventura de seguir al Señor.

Por dentro de la vida de la Iglesia, recibimos el don de entendimiento para ser verdaderamente sabios y saber distinguir entre el bien y el mal, para vivir la grandeza de nuestro llamado de los predestinados, llamados, justificados y glorificados. Dentro de la Iglesia, la gracia de los sacramentos nos da fuerza más allá de nuestras capacidades para ser fieles a la perla valiosa que hemos obtenido. Dentro de la Iglesia, encontramos los otros peces recogidos en la red – a veces luchando para librarse, no habiendo escogido estar allá, pero tratando de ayudarse mutuamente a florecer, aprendiendo ser fieles a obligaciones no elegidas.

Dios Padre quiere que su Hijo sea el primero de muchos hermanos. Si quieres ser elegido, llamado y glorificado, a poder decir con Solomon y Santo Tomás que deseas a Dios sobre todo – ¡Non nisi te! – tienes que ser por primero un hijo de la Esposa de Cristo, la Iglesia, y aprender amar al antiguo y nuevo que Ella te da en su sabiduría. Que así sea.

Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Iglesia Parroquial de San Juan Evangelista, Goshen

XVII Domingo por el Año, A.D. MMXXIII


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