17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

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

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for mankind.  That is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Treasures of the Kingdom
The treasures God promises us in His heavenly Kingdom are more valuable than the earthly treasures of silver and gold. In our First Reading, a young King Solomon realizes that the wisdom that comes from God is greater than all earthly treasures. When the Lord offers to give Solomon whatever he asks, the young king wisely chooses the spiritual over the material.

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist declares that the Law of Yahweh is his covenantal inheritance from the Lord that he treasures more than silver or gold. He hopes to live in God's mercy with the commandments of God's Law as his guide and his comfort. The psalmist expresses his love for God through his obedience to the Law. Therefore, he is hopeful that the Lord will show him favor by giving him the understanding he needs to live more fully in the light of God's Law.

God calls us to share in the glory of His eternal Son (Second Reading), and Jesus' Kingdom of the Church is the vehicle Jesus gave us to bring us to that glory in the heavenly Kingdom. Saint Paul wrote that all who demonstrate their love for God by seeking His will in their lives, believing in all He has taught, and living according to that teaching have received a unique promise. No matter what happens: for good or for ill and in success or suffering, all that they experience on their journey of faith is part of God's divine plan of salvation for their lives. God will turn every experience, even suffering, to the benefit of their salvation if they persevere in faith and obedience and trust God.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus tells the last three of the seven "Kingdom Parables." The focus of the last three parables is the Last Judgment at the end of the Age of Man which brings to a close the Messianic Era, the Age of the earthly New Covenant Church in Salvation History (see the chart on the twelve periods of salvation history). Jesus promises that His Kingdom is a treasure for which we should be willing to give up all earthly pursuits and attachments. All people are welcomed into the Kingdom of the earthly Church (the good and the bad), but only the righteous/good souls who fully love God and are obedient to His commandments are kept for eternal life. Living forever in the presence of God in His heavenly Kingdom is the unequaled treasure Jesus promises those who live by what St. Paul called "the obedience of faith."

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus tells the last three of the seven "Kingdom Parables."  The focus of the last three parables is the Last Judgment at the end of the Age of Man which brings to a close the Messianic Era.  Jesus promises that His Kingdom is a treasure for which we should be willing to give up all earthly pursuits and attachments to possess.  All people are welcomed into the Kingdom of the earthly Church (the good and the bad), but only the righteous/good souls who fully love God and are obedient to His commandments are kept for eternal life.  To live forever in the presence of God in His heavenly Kingdom is the unequaled treasure Jesus promises those who live by the obedience of faith.

The First Reading 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
5 The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.  God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you."  7 Solomon answered: "O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.  8 I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.  9 Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.  For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?" [...]  10 The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.  11 So God said to him: "Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—12 I do as you requested.  I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you."

God comes to young King Solomon in a dream.  Sometimes God speaks to His elect in visions, sometimes through an emissary like a prophet or an angel, and sometimes in dreams (for example: Gen 15:1; 28:10-16; Ex 3:2-4; Num 24:4; Josh 5:13-15; 2 Sam 7:4-17; Mt 1:19-24; 2:14; Lk 1:11-20; 26-38; etc.).  Yahweh asks Solomon to make a petition that He promises to grant. 

7 Solomon answered: "O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth [a little child] ...
In the literal Hebrew text, Solomon refers to himself as "a little child"; it is a rhetorical phrase expressing inexperience and is a sign of humility.  The first century AD Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, gave Solomon's age as 14 when he became king (Antiquities of the Jews, 8.211), but the average age of the Davidic kings when they ascended to the throne was 22 years.

not knowing at all how to act [not knowing how to lead out and to come in].  The literal Hebrew is: "not knowing how to lead out and to come in."  It is the same expression of leadership found, for example, in the literal Hebrew text of Numbers 27:17 when Moses asked God to appoint a leader to succeed him and in 1 Samuel 5:2 when the elders of Israel asked David to be their king.  Jesus uses the same expression in His Good Shepherd discourse when He says, in the literal Greek, that He will lead His sheep "out and in" (Jn 10:3).  

9 Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart [a heart that listens] to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.  For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"
Solomon's literal request is for a "heart that listens."  In ancient Hebrew and other cultures of the ancient Near East, the heart was considered to be the organ of comprehension and the seat of moral judgment.  The ability to listen is seen as a source of wisdom in discerning the truth of the words a person speaks and in judging the right action in a situation.  Because sound judgment is a godlike attribute (Dt 1:17; Ps 72:1-2; etc.), Solomon petitions Yahweh to bless him with this trait.  That Solomon describes God's people as "a vast people," literally "too numerous to count," is hyperbole, expressing how overwhelmed the young king feels being responsible for so many of God's people.

10 The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.  11 So God said to him: "Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—12 I do as you requested.  I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you."
God is pleased with Solomon's humility.   He not only grants Solomon's request for wisdom but multiplies the blessing so that no other ruler will be Solomon's equal in wisdom and understanding.  Solomon will also receive the other gifts for which he did not ask: riches, safety from his enemies, and a long life. 

The lesson for us is that when we come to God in humility and submit our lives into His hands, He is both merciful and generous in giving us gifts that are more valuable than silver and gold.  His gifts are imperishable and will sustain us on our earthly journey to His heavenly kingdom.

Responsorial Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-130

The response is: "Lord, I love your commands."

57 I have said, O LORD, that my part is to keep your words.  72 The Law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces. 
Response:
76 Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise to your servants.  77 Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.
Response:
127 For I love your commands more than gold, however fine.  128 For in all your precepts I go forward; every false way I hate.
Response:
129 Wonderful are your decrees; therefore I observe them.  130 The revelation of your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple.
Response:

This Psalm is entitled:  A Prayer to God, the Lawgiver.  Psalm 119 is an alphabetical Psalm with the first letter of the opening word of each section being a letter of the Hebrew alphabet from the first letter, "aleph," to the last letter, "tau." 

57 I have said, O LORD, that my part [portion] is to keep your words.

The Law of Yahweh is the psalmist's part, literally his "portion;" it is his covenantal inheritance from the Lord that he treasures more than silver or gold (verses 57 and 72).  He hopes to live in God's mercy with the commandments of God's Law as his guide and his comfort (verses 76-77).  He loves the word of God found in the Law, which he values as his greatest treasure.  Therefore, he is obedient to it, and he is hopeful that the Lord will show him favor and give him the understanding he needs to live more fully in the light of God's Law (verses 127-130).   The psalmist expresses his love for God through his obedience to the Law. 

Jesus taught about the connection between loving God and obedience to the word of God when He told His disciples: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments... Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.  And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him" (Jn 14:15, 21).

The Second Reading Romans 8:28-30 ~ God has called the Christian to Share in His Glory
28 We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  30 And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

In Romans 5:5 and 8, St. Paul spoke of God's love for the justified, poured into their hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Now in Romans 8:28, Paul writes about those who love God, using the same Greek verb agapan, which by the Christian definition came to mean "self-sacrificial love."  It is the kind of love Jesus commanded us to give to one another just as He has loved us (Jn 13:34).  For Paul, it is "agape love" that defines what it means to be a Christian. 

28 We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
What a wonderful promise God makes to all Christians through His servant St. Paul in verse 28.  All who love God, believing in all His commandments and living according to those commandments, thereby seeking God's will in their lives, have been given a unique promise.  No matter what happens: for good or for ill and in success or in suffering, all that they experience on their journey of faith is part of God's divine plan of salvation for their lives.  Every experience will be turned to the benefit of their salvation if they persevere in faith and trust God. 

The reason good can come from everything experienced in the Christian's life is that this promise is not dependent on the Christian.  Good comes because it is God Himself who takes the initiative, and it is His intervention that turns everything to their good.  It is a promise that is repeated by St. James who wrote in his letter to the universal Church: Make no mistake about this, my dear brothers: all that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change (Jam 1:16-17, NJB).  St. Paul's promise of God's love and faithfulness to the Christian who is obedient to the word of God's assurance of working for the good in all aspects of the faithful Christian's life would have been familiar to his Jewish audience.  It was one of the themes in the writings of the Old Testament prophets concerning God's love and faithfulness to the covenant people: 

(Also see Ex 15:13; Dt 7:12-13; 2 Chr 6:14; Neh 1:5; etc.).

This assurance of God's faithful love, however, does not keep us from trials and suffering.  Yet, there is the promise that good can come from these trials and sufferings, if not to us then to others who are working out their salvation.  The saints who have suffered for Christ understood this promise:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects on the mystery of God's plan in the lives of believers and in the world in CCC# 314: "We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history.  But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us.  Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God 'face to face', will we fully know the ways by which—even through the dramas of evil and sin—God has guided his creation to that definitive Sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth."

29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  30 And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.
In Romans 8:29-30, St. Paul introduces an affirmation of Christian destiny in which our hope lies.  Paul tells us that Jesus is to be the eldest of "many brothers and sisters."  Christians who have been reborn through the Sacrament of Baptism into the family of God and who acknowledge God as their "Father" have Jesus as their eldest "brother."

In Romans 3:23, St. Paul wrote that without the Gospel of Jesus Christ all human beings have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Now, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul assures us that God has not only communicated His righteousness and His saving power but also has revealed how His plan of salvation intends that all human beings are called to a destiny of salvation.  The New Jerusalem Bible translates verse 29 as: He decided beforehand who were the ones destined to be molded to the pattern of his Son... but it is also translated, Those whom he foreknew, he also predestined... (RSV).

St. Paul does not mean to suggest, as some Christians attracted to the Protestant Reformation doctrine of John Calvin have interpreted this passage, that God has decided beforehand who is to be saved and who is to be damned and that our free will has no effect in cooperating with our salvation.  According to Calvin's false doctrine, the elect are predestined [Latin prae = "before" + destinare = "to destine, ordain"] to receive irresistible grace while others are predestined by God to receive the impulse of the will to sin and so are not given salvific grace.  This teaching is in error.  Every human being cooperates in God's divine plan through his free will to accept or reject God's planned destiny of his soul.  However, since God is all-knowing and is not bound by time or space, He does know which choice each of us will make.  St. Paul is affirming this fore-knowledge of God in Romans 8:29-30Paul does not mean nor does Catholic teaching hold that predestination by God denies human free will. 

Sacred Scripture clearly teaches that it is God's desire that person makes the free will choice to come to salvation.  If this is indeed God's desire, then He would not predestine anyone to damnation: 1 Timothy 2:1-4 ~ First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.  This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (emphasis added; also see 2 Pt 3:9).

It was God's plan from the time of the fall of Adam that Christ's death would be for all humanity and not just for a predestined group.  Jesus was sent to be Savior of the world and everyone in it: 

Jesus, the New Adam, died for the sins of humanity.  Just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all who, in their free will, accepted His sacrificial death on their behalf:

Jesus' death was the one perfect sacrifice for all humanity and for all time (see Heb 7:27; 9:27-28; 10:10; Jn 1:29; 12:30-32; 1 Jn 4:14; Rev 21:5).  But because Jesus is God, He knows the mind and heart of all people.  He knows who will respond in faith to His universal call to salvation: ...but Jesus knew all people and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about anyone; he could tell what someone had in him (Jn 2:24-25, NJB).

The Catechism addresses the destiny of humanity for salvation in CCC# 257: "...Such is the 'plan of his loving kindness,' conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in his beloved Son: 'He destined us in love to be his sons' and 'to be conformed to the image of his Son,' through 'the spirit of sonship.' This plan is a 'grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,' stemming immediately from Trinitarian love. It unfolds in the work of creation, the whole history of salvation after the fall, and the missions of the Son and the Spirit, which are continued in the mission of the Church" (with references to Eph 1:4-5, 9; Rom 8:15, 29 and 2 Tim 1:9-10).  And in CCC# 381 the Catechism teaches that it is our destiny to be reborn in the image of God the Son: "Man is predestined to reproduce the image of God's Son made man, 'the image of the invisible God' (Col. 1:15), so that Christ shall be the firstborn of a multitude of brothers and sisters (cf. Eph 1:3-6; Rom 8:29)."  That it is the destiny of redeemed man to image Christ is what St. Cyril taught in the 4th century to the newly baptized: "God, indeed, who has predestined us to adoption as his sons, has conformed us to the glorious Body of Christ.  So then you who have become sharers in Christ are appropriately called 'Christs" (Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechism mystogogia, 3,1).

Addressing this tension between the exercise of our free will and God's foreknowledge, the Catechism teaches in CCC# 600: "To God all moments of time are present in their immediacy.  When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination,' he includes in it each person's free response to his grace..."  It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that all humanity is called to cooperate in God's divine plan of salvation.  All who respond to that call ["the elect"] are justified according to His plan, and are united to the image of God the Son, fulfilling their destiny as justified believers who receive a share in the glory of His presence.  Catholic scholars down through the centuries have dedicated themselves to trying to reconcile the tension between free will and God's foreknowledge.  However, all agree in the end with St. Paul's assessment in Romans 11:33-34 that God's knowledge of human destiny is an unfathomable mystery, Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.  For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?

The Gospel of Matthew 13:44-52 ~ The Conclusion of the Kingdom Parables
44 "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."  45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  46 When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it." 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  48 When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.  What is bad they throw away."  49 Thus it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."

The last three "Kingdom Parables" are a unit tied together by Jesus in His statement in verses 49-50.  The focus of the last three parables is the Last Judgment at the end of the Age of Man at the close of the Messianic Era.  This discourse is ending in the same way the other discourses in Matthew's Gospel ended, in an eschatological [end time] teaching.

Matthew 13:44-46 ~ The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and The Parable of the Pearl without Price
44 "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."
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  46 When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it."
Jesus' disciples are like the person who found the hidden treasure and the merchant who found the pearl.  When they discovered the Messiah who came to announce the Kingdom of God, they left everything worldly behind to follow Christ and to possess the Kingdom.  The two parables focus on the value of the Kingdom and the joy of those who discover the treasure of eternal life.  Both the laborer who found the treasure in the field and the merchant who discovered valuable pearl had the wisdom to understand what they had found and the determination to give up everything worldly to keep it.  The Old Testament Scriptures imparted wisdom (see Prov 2:1-4 and Is 33:6), but the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ imparts a new form of wisdom in the revelation of God the Son and His gift of eternal life.

Matthew 13:47-48 ~ The Parable of the Sorting of the Good and Bad Fish
47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  48 When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.  What is bad they thrown away." 
Like the other discourses, the Kingdom Parables come to an end with the subject of the Last Judgment at the end of the age.  All people are welcomed into the Kingdom of the earthly Church (the good and the bad), but only the righteous/good souls who fully love God and are obedient to His commandments are kept for eternal life.

Matthew 13:49-50 ~ Jesus' Summary statement for the last three parables
49 "Thus it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."
The angels, who were the "harvesters" in the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:30, 39-43), will separate the wicked from the righteous.  These last parables compare the condition of the righteous versus the wicked.  The righteous are the ones who treat the kingdom like a precious treasure worth more than anything earthly life can offer.  They are the "good" fish who are separated from the "bad" fish, and they are destined for eternal glory.  The wicked treat the kingdom as though it has no value for them.  They are like the "bad" fish, and, in the choices they have made, they are destined for eternal damnation.

The place of eternal damnation is described as the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.  Jesus used the same expression, "wailing and grinding of teeth," to describe the unfaithful Old Covenant people's expulsion from the Kingdom in Matthew 8:12.

Matthew 13:51-52 ~ Jesus Concludes His Discourse
51 "Do you understand all these things?"  They answered, "Yes." 
The theme of this passage is the ability to understand Jesus' teachings.  He asks His disciples if they have understood His parables.  It is not only a question for them but a question for all generations of those who call themselves His disciples.  Their affirmative answer is significant because they are identified as the "seed that fell on good soil" (Mt 13:23) and "understanding" is what Jesus said the crowds and the Pharisees lacked (Mt 13:13-15).

52 And he replied, "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."  When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.
Jesus uses the example of two kinds of men in describing the way His disciples should work to understand the mysteries of the kingdom in verse 52.  The scribes were the theologians of Jesus' time who were trained to interpret the Law and to understand the other books of Sacred Scripture written by the Holy-Spirit-inspired writers of what we call the Old Testament.  Ben Sirach describes a true scribe as one who treasures the discourses of famous men, and goes to the heart of involved sayings; he studies obscure parables, and is busied with the hidden meanings of the sages ... He will show the wisdom of what he had learned and glory in the law of the LORD's covenant (Sir 39:2-3, 8).  Jesus teaches that the scribe is like the head of a household.  Like the scribe who draws his knowledge from the books of Sacred Scripture, the head of the household has items in his storeroom that he has amassed over time and which he uses when needed.  Some scholars count this passage as an 8th parable.

The scribe and the householder are alike because they both make use of what is old and what is new.  To correctly interpret the Sacred Scriptures, the scribe must be knowledgeable about all of Sacred Scripture from the oldest texts of the Pentateuch beginning with the Book of Genesis to the later texts of the prophets and the wisdom literature.  The wise householder makes use of everything in his storeroom: older items/foodstuffs and newer produce/products.  In this passage, Jesus instructs His disciples (and us) on how to study His teachings to receive the fullness of understanding.  He says one must study His teachings like the scribe who uses all of Sacred Scripture and the head of a household who uses all that is available to him (also see Mt 5:17; 13:11).  Everything must be brought forth from the "storehouse" of God's word: both the old and the new.  We must study the Old Testament readings in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ and His word/teaching that reveals "knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" if we want to understand how He fulfilled the Law and the prophets (Lk 24:44-47).  This teaching has always been the foundation of Catholic Biblical studies, as expressed by St. Augustine: For the New [Testament] is hidden in the Old [Testament] and the Old is unveiled in the New (Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2.73; see CCC 129)It is the plan of study that is present in our readings from the Liturgy of the Word where we study the Old Testament passages in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament readings and the New Testament readings as a fulfillment of God's promises in Old Testament Scripture.

Catechism References:
Romans 8:28-30 (CCC 1821, 2012); 8:28 (CCC 313, 395), 8:29 (CCC 257, 381, 501)
Matthew 13:44-52 13:44-45 (CCC 546); 13:50 (CCC 1034); 13:52 (CCC 1117)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014; revised 2017 www.AgapeBibleStudy.com