Brief synopsis of the readings: In the First Book of Kings we learn of the newly crowned King Solomon. God comes to him in a dream and offers to give him anything he wishes and Solomon asks for the gift of Wisdom. God was impressed that he asked for this instead of long life or riches and granted him Wisdom. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven in different images: a man finds treasure in a field and sells what he has to purchase the field. Jesus also describes a man who finds a pearl of great value and sells what he has to purchase it. Finally he talked about a fisherman who fills his nets. On shore he separates “the good ones” and “those who are of no use.”
OK can I say this for the record? In today’s Gospel the guy who finds buried treasure in someone’s field and purchases it is guilty of insider trading. If the owner of the field knew of the buried treasure he wouldn’t have sold it, or at least sold it for a much higher price. Simply put, he was cheated.
Today we think a great deal about fairness and justice because of the world we live in. We have a much greater ability to know about events from far away and it gives us, perhaps, a greater responsibility to act with justice toward each other. With our 24 news cycles we instantly know what is happening around the world; it bears noting that before the invention of the telegraph in 1844 news could only travel as fast as a train or a horse. Nobody could feel outrage over events in a different part of the world because we had no way of knowing about them.
Not today. Not only are we bombarded with imagines and sound, but we’re also asked what we think about it. Do Black Lives Matter? Do Blue Lives Matter? Do All Lives matter? Not only that, but seemingly every event comes with a poll. Sixty percent of white Americans think this way, do you? Which side are you one? And when we’re overwhelmed by what we see and hear, we even have a name for it: Compassion Fatigue.
We’re told that we need to donate money to stop animal cruelty but we’re not sure our generosity will be well invested. The local food bank needs volunteers but we’re barely hanging on with our current schedule. We’re told to pray for the less fortunate but that doesn’t seem productive enough.
So what do we do? I suggest that this might be a good time to revisit Wisdom. We think of Wisdom as “making good decisions” but it’s a good deal more than that. We talk about the Wisdom of Solomon and point to an event shortly after this reading. Two women give birth to sons on the same day in the same house, but one of the babies dies. Both women claim the remaining child and demand that Solomon give him to her. Solomon then suggests that the baby be cut in half and each woman gets half. The first woman thought this was reasonable but the second woman didn’t and suggested that the baby be given to the other mother. Since only the real mother would value the life of the baby enough to give it up, Solomon granted the child to the second woman.
I suggest that I’m probably not the only one who came away thinking that Solomon wasn’t wise so much as he was clever and since then we’ve tried to make clever decisions. But let’s rethink Wisdom.
When I was a priest and heard confessions I found myself thinking of Wisdom often. People of all ages would confess to poor decisions, failed manipulations and the like. I would talk with them about how Wisdom gives us the ability to make decisions on the spot that would be the same if we had time to consider it. It gives us the ability to “pull back the camera” and see the bigger picture.
I thought back to a story about Mother Teresa. A priest was watching her give a bath to a person with Hansen’s Disease (what we used to call leprosy); he was so horrified not only at the person in front of him but all those with Hansen’s Disease in all Calcutta, and the world. He wasn’t a bad guy but he just couldn’t imagine doing what she was doing and said: “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa then looked up at him and said: “Neither would I.”
Her point (as I see it) was that she wasn’t interested in gain, or even winning the battle against global suffering. But after a lifetime of practicing Wisdom she learned to take the long game. She recognized that at the end of her life she would have bathed, fed, and sheltered countless people.
In the course of our lives we will also have the capacity to do countless good things. We won’t have ended animal cruelty or singlehandedly cured cancer but it was never about this. We will have done a great deal more than if we got overwhelmed by the size of the crisis. Perhaps we would look back on a few wasted donations and people we didn’t minister to but I think that would be dwarfed by the good we were able to do.
And finally, our Gospel talks about the man who finds buried treasure and I suggested that this was unfair. But nothing in the Gospel talks about this buried treasure as money that was dug up. Perhaps the Gospel tells us that this “buried treasure” is a metaphor for something everyone saw but only this person saw value in.
So let’s think about Wisdom.