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Reflection for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Don’t you just love the first reading? God asks Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” And Solomon’s answer is, “Give me an understanding heart so I can serve your people.” God is so pleased with this answer. He could have asked for long life for himself or riches or the life of his enemies. But he asks for understanding and God gives him a wise heart, something that he can use to serve others. If God asked us the same question, what would our answer be, what would we ask for?

Then Jesus gives us the parables of the Kingdom. Do you remember the old days when you had a box of Cracker Jack’s or cereal and there was a toy or prize at the bottom of the box. Didn’t many of us empty the box to get the prize? We couldn’t wait until the food was gone. Or did you ever watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS. People would bring their “treasures,” trying to decide whether they should keep or sell their treasure. The three parables of discovery are like that. We see how both the searching and the finding bring great rewards.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a buried treasure. Sometimes the kingdom is going to be experienced by us when we least expect it. The person in the story wasn’t digging in the field to find something of value. He came upon it completely unexpectedly. He sees initially what everyone else sees –dirt, weeds, soil. There is a surprise-like quality to this kind of encounter with the kingdom. From Jesus’ story, we can conclude that there evidently are times when we will simply stumble upon evidence of the kingdom, moments when God’s grace will come to us seemingly out of nowhere – without warning and without anything done on our part.

Or the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl of great price, and the merchant sells all he has and buys the pearl. This is the kind of encounter in which we have a more active part to play. When we experience the kingdom in this way, it’s because we are searching for something – something we know to be of great value. It doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, the kingdom is revealed to us through God’s graciousness and our willingness to cooperate with that grace. And this sort of encounter requires that we search and search and search until we find what we’re looking for. And when we journey out in faith this way, each moment of grace is not a stopping point on the path, but a reason to search even more faithfully and persistently, in order to experience every blessing and wonderful gift God has in store for us.

Jesus holds out for us both ways for us to consider this day – discovering the kingdom when we least expect it and discovering the kingdom when we search for it. And choosing only one way is sure to leave us missing out on much of what God desires for us. The fact that the kingdom is not always as visible as God wants it to be indicates that great possibilities still exist for more and more of the kingdom to be made manifest – and more and more of the love and mercy of God to permeate our world. Our limited experience of the kingdom continually points us forward and reveals to us what can be, what should be, and what must be. God’s kingdom is not about what was or is but rather is about what is possible when we fully embrace the new life that God is offering us.

And so, we have a part to play. First, by realizing just how precious experiencing the kingdom is, and how important it is that we search for it tirelessly and recognize it when it shows its face unexpectedly. But just as important, we must recognize that we can also make the kingdom more visible, that we can more perfectly allow God’s compassion, love and generosity to flow from us, that through us others can experience the power and beauty of the kingdom in a deeper and more fully-realized way. It’s not just about what we discover but what others discover through us.

When God asks us what we would like from him, hopefully our answer will be an understanding heart that will help us make the kingdom of God alive in our world. And don’t worry about getting the toy in the bottom of the Cracker Jack’s box. Rather, go after the real treasure that will inspire us to do what we can to make the kingdom of God more perfectly displayed for all the world to see.

If you have a brief faith reflection on today’s reading that you would like to share, please send it to me at deaconruss@holyspiritunoh.org.