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17th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A

I think we have looked at the idea of culture previously, and it features again prominently in today’s readings. As we know, the words “culture” and “cult” have the same stem. The meaning then revolves around what we worship, what reigns in our lives, consciously or unconsciously. Basically: what rules our heart.

Culture is therefore closely linked with the idea of kingship and rule. And today’s readings give us two examples of this idea of culture and kingship. The first is Solomon, the archetypal wise King of Israel. The second is Jesus, proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Kingship and kingdom are central ideas in the Bible. Revolutionary ones. They are revolutionary because the Bible fundamentally changes what they mean in human history. People have always sought order in their lives. In ancient times, people observed order in nature, in the seasons and in the stars, and so understood existence as following some intrinsic order. They therefore tried to live in communion with that cosmic order. They tried to pattern communities on this.

This occurred most especially through kings and other rulers. These rulers were seen to be the ones through whom the order of the heavens was brought down to earth. The commands of the king were received as commands from heaven. People tried to fit in with the cosmic order through obedience to the king, who was somehow how God spoke to his people. This was their culture. This was what formed the community.

So, what is the revolution that occurs in the Bible? The revolutionary step is to make everyone a king or queen. What do we mean by this? Well, we can see it in our first reading. Solomon, whose name mean peace, seeks to rule well: he seeks to obey God and to serve God’s people. He realises that he has been given a task. This task consists of service; and the prerequisite for such a task is wisdom, which is the ability a) to recognise good and choose it, and b) to recognise evil and avoid it. This is fundamental to good order and peace.

When we look at our first reading, we can see that what Solomon was faced with is just what each of us is faced with. The size of the task might be different, but it is the same one. Somehow, we all have to work out what is going on and make the best of it. We all believe that there is an order to things. If there were no order, then there would be no point in thinking about anything. So the very fact that we can and do think, shows our belief in order. Given this belief, there are therefore right ways and wrong ways of going about it all. Finally, given all this, it makes no sense to choose poorly.

Right here, then, we have the major development in the idea of kingship. Each of us is a king or queen because each of us rules our own life, and we rule it according to what is right or wrong. We do not legislate this law, but we are responsible for enacting it in our lives through our decisions. We rule and are ruled by the law of wisdom. The Bible therefore testifies to this great spiritual insight: we are each of us a site where the order that underpins and controls the cosmos enters into it. This is the profound meaning of the moral life, and to a lesser degree scientific research.

Moreover, in experiencing this spiritual reality, the one that grounds and gives direction to all that we do, we recognise that this is what life is. And if this is what life just is, then this is also what is most central to the lives of our neighbours. They too are royalty in this kingdom, because they too are under the Word of God, under that command to live wisely. In one sense, this is the foundation of human dignity and the seat of our equality. We are each addressed by and responsible for God’s Word.

So, we can see why Jesus is always talking about the kingdom of God, why he tells so many parables about it. The kingdom of God is the experience of the rule of God in our lives; a rule, though, that does not enslave us, but one that frees us by seeking our cooperation with the Word of God, the Word through whom all things are made, the Word that orders the universe. This cooperation frees us because it puts us in control; in control because we know how things work or should work. We have the blueprints, in the shape of a well-formed conscience, formed through obedience to the Word, formed through right-living.

We can also see why the Psalmist says your law is my delight, why Jesus says this is a treasure, a pearl of great price, why everything else must be discarded so as to take hold of this. Because without this, nothing else can make sense, nothing else can work. Why? Because this is sense itself. Without wisdom, without the knowledge of good and evil, we are bound to hurt ourselves and each other. More than that, without this, we are condemned to meaningless, nonsensical lives, lives that mean nothing in the end because they have worked against their own basic principle. We can hear Jesus telling us this when he says those who have lived evil, stupid lives are discarded as worthless. In going against the Word of God in their lives, they have turned themselves into nothing. This is the basic definition of the fool in the Bible: the one who acts as though God’s Word does not exist, as though there is no such thing as wisdom. And this is why the Church over the years has worked so hard, especially through the Saints, to listen to God’s Word, pray and think about it and so determine what is right and what is wrong. For our sake. So that we might not only avoid injury, but more importantly grow in freedom and wisdom.

So, like Solomon, let us also pray for the gift of wisdom. Let us pray that we might learn what is good and what is evil, through lives lived according to God’s Word. That we might become truly free and so be able to perform the greatest act a human can: freely to offer oneself entirely to God and neighbour. The act which we are about to do right now, through God’s grace, in and through the offertory and the liturgy of the Eucharist. In this, we fulfil our baptismal vocations of prophet, king and priest. Prophet – by proclaiming God’s word; king – by ruling our lives according to that Word; and priest – by offering ourselves in response and through that Word.


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