SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12
July 24, 2005
“The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee’” (1 K 3:5). What would you do if the Lord were to appear to you in a dream by night and say to you, “Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee”? What would you ask of God? Health? Long life? A life other than the one you have? A change in present circumstances? God, with a disarming simplicity, makes himself available to Solomon. The Almighty places his power at the disposal of one “created a little less than the angels” (Ps 8:6).
Solomon is a little child before God. “I am but a child,” he says, “and know not how to go out and come in” (1 K 3:7). Solomon asks not for power, nor for victory over his enemies, nor for riches. He asks for “an understanding heart” (1 K 3:9) to judge God’s people. “And the word was pleasing to the Lord that Solomon had asked such a thing” (1 K 3:10). King Solomon was given a heart so wise and discerning that there has been no one like him in all of history. “Behold,” says the Lord, “I have done for thee according to thy words, and I have given thee a wise and understanding heart, insomuch that there hath been no one like thee before thee, nor shall arise after thee” (1 K 3:12). That is not all. The Lord adds, “Yea and the things also which thou didst not ask, I have given thee” (1 K 3:13). Christ, the true Solomon will say, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33).
By asking for an understanding heart, Solomon was seeking to enter into the mind of God. He was asking to see things from the divine perspective and to judge things from God’s point of view. Only the childlike and humble can see things from God’s point of view.
Pride is the obstacle to understanding; pride is what blinds the eyes of the heart. With humility comes vision, and with vision understanding. The old Irish hymn sings, “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.” Jesus, whose face is the vision of every wise heart, of every pure and humble heart, says: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will” (Lk 10:21).
To see things as God sees them one must be lifted up into God. Saint Gregory relates that Holy Father Benedict was once so drawn into God that he saw the whole world gathered up in a single ray of light. Lifted up beyond all created things, Saint Benedict saw all things as God sees them. In Chapter Seven of his Rule, he who saw all things from this divine perspective gives us the steps of humility, a way out of the blindness of pride into the seeing that is the joy of the all the saints.
In order to be lifted up, one must be very little, very humble. In order to be raised up to the vantage point of God, one must be willing to forsake all other perspectives, and become detached from every other point of view. “If you would see as I see,” says God, “confess that all your seeing is blindness.”
Holy wisdom is a passage out of the human ways of measuring and of understanding into God’s way of seeing and judging all things. To enter into the wisdom of God is to enter into a blinding light, into a brightness so intense that we experience it not as light but as darkness. We cannot begin to see things as God sees them without dying to our own way of seeing, of knowing, and of understanding.
Pride, attachment to one’s own point of view, and human cleverness are obstacles to the infusion of divine wisdom. This is the teaching of all the saints down through the ages. This is why the saints have always sought out the poverty of Bethlehem and the nakedness of the Cross. Saint Paul says that “the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor 1:18-20).
The Christ depicted in the icon of “Extreme Humility.” Christ lowly and despised is the Wisdom of God come into a world beset by madness, by the folly of sin. Apart from Christ there is no way for us to enter into the wisdom of God, no way for us to be raised above the confusion of the world so as to see things as God sees them. We cannot raise up ourselves. The psalmist says: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Ps 139:6).
There is but one way to heavenly wisdom, one way to gain true understanding and that is by becoming poor and childlike with the humble and crucified Jesus. True wisdom is marked with the sign of the Cross. Wisdom enters when we ask for one gift: the knowledge of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). This is the knowledge that surpasses even that of Solomon. Saint Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8).
When we have been led by the Holy Spirit into the bright darkness of the Cross we begin to look at and judge all things differently. Saint Paul says in our second reading that we come see that “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28). We begin to see everything including suffering, hardship, pain, weakness, rejection, and loss as the material into which God weaves his own threads of holiness and glory.
This new way of measuring and weighing reality causes us to readjust our priorities. Saint Paul says: “For the sake of Christ I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him” (Phil 3:8). Once we have discovered the mystery of the Cross, hidden like a treasure in the field, we go and sell all that we have and buy the field (Mt 13:44). The person who is searching for the meaning of life, for a reason to live and a reason to die, is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. He finds one of great value, goes and sells all that he has and buys it (Mt 13:45 46).
Christ is the treasure hidden in the field. Christ is the pearl of great value. The treasure is hidden in the Eucharist; the precious pearl is enshrined its mystery. The Eucharist is the Father giving us Christ and Christ lifting us up with himself to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Here is a gift infinitely greater than that given by God to Solomon.
In the Eucharist, the Lord comes to us, not in a dream by night, but in Word and Sacrament. He comes to us and says to us as he did to Solomon, “Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee” (1 K 3:5). For what shall we ask? Let us “hold nothing dearer than Christ” (RB 5:2); let us ask for nothing but Christ. Then shall the Father say to us, as he once said to Solomon: “Because thou hast asked this thing . . . behold I have done for thee according to thy words” (1 K 3:11-12). O paradox of God become obedient to the word of man! O Holy Wisdom, give us to ask rightly!