July 26, 2020 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12 / Romans 8:28-30 / Matthew 13:44-46
I delivered this homily at the vigil Mass last night at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and will be delivering it again at the Masses this morning. You may listen to the homily by clicking below or the text of the homily follows if you would like to read it.
Most of us – at one time or another – have been overwhelmed by a gift we’ve received. The gift was a surprise; it was bigger or more expensive than expected; or maybe we thought we didn’t deserve the gift.
In the early 1990’s, I became quite ill and needed to go to a specialty hospital in Chicago. I was transported to that hospital for a week’s worth of treatments. Carol, of course, wanted to be with me. Our four children were ages 4-11. We had no extra money and our low-limit credit cards were maxed out. Carol left the kids with her sister and made the trip to Chicago, deciding that she would just figure out how to pay for a place to stay once she got there. I was in no condition to argue with her. She checked into a hotel across the street from the hospital — a hotel in downtown Chicago was not going to be cheap. She had no idea how she would pay for it at the end of the week.
Fast forward to the end of my hospital stay. The day before Carol was to check out of the hotel, I remember talking to her about it. Her one and only hope was that the charge would go through on one of the credit cards.
The morning I was released from the hospital, Carol left me waiting in the hospital lobby while she crossed the street to check out of the hotel. We joked that if she wasn’t back in an hour, I should assume she’d been arrested or was in the hotel laundry room washing sheets and towels until the bill was paid off. Despite our efforts at humor, we were both very anxious about the situation.
Carol returned about ten minutes later. I could tell she was overwhelmed and was physically shaking – but in a good way.
“Is everything OK?” I asked. “Did the charge card work?”
“I didn’t need it,” she said. She had tears rolling down her cheeks.
She explained that when she went to the front desk to turn in her key and check out, she was told the bill had already been paid. Someone had called the hotel and paid the bill. To this day we still don’t know who it was.
Needless to say, we were both overwhelmed. What a beautiful gift! We felt so loved by someone. What had we done to deserve such a gift?
It was a debt that could never be re-paid. There was not an IOU that we could pay off over time and no one person to whom we could express our gratitude.
As I reflect on my life, there have been other such gifts.
The beautiful gifts of marriage and children – undeserved and overwhelming gifts that have far exceeded my expectations.
The gift of ordination to the diaconate – a gift for which I am entirely unworthy.
When such a gift comes our way, our first inclination is to question it: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? We tend to focus on our unworthiness. The generosity of the gift may even freeze us in our tracks. “How can I ever repay you?”
We stand in fear – unworthy of the gift and incapable of repayment.
Rather than question the gift or our worthiness to receive it, today’s readings encourage us to embrace the gift, cherish it, and take ownership of it.
In our first reading, God said to Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
Talk about an overwhelming gift!
Yet, young Solomon did not hesitate. He did not stand in fear of the awesomeness of the offer, nor did he express concern about his worthiness. His response shows us why today we use the expression, the wisdom of Solomon.
Despite his youth and his unworthiness, Solomon embraced the gift and took ownership of it. He responded to God, “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart.”
Solomon decided he was not only going to accept God’s gift but use that gift to do God’s work. His wisdom allowed him to bring the gift full circle. Although unworthy, he accepted the gift and used it in such a way as to become worthy. He embraced the gift, took ownership, and used it to glorify God.
Matthew’s gospel picks up on that same theme. The beautiful – although undeserved – gift of eternal life is placed before us. Do we feel so overwhelmed and unworthy that we are frozen in our tracks? Is our plan to simply risk nothing and hope the offer of the gift remains on the table?
Or do we embrace the gift? Do we go all in on it and do everything we can to take ownership of it?
That’s what Jesus encourages us to do. The kingdom of heaven – eternal life – is the gift being offered. He gave these examples as appropriate responses:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and out of joy sells all that he has and buys that field.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”
Solomon, the person that discovered the buried treasure, and the merchant that found the pearl all had one thing in common. When the opportunity to embrace and take ownership of a priceless gift was placed before them, they went all in. They were willing to pay the price. Initial unworthiness aside, they ultimately paid the price and proved themselves worthy.
Several months after someone had paid Carol’s hotel bill, we made a conscious effort to pay the gift forward. We were aware of someone that was having car trouble and could not afford to get the work done right away. We went to the garage and anonymously paid for the work to be done.
We were not worthy of the gift of someone paying our hotel bill, but we wanted to do our best to make ourselves worthy of such gifts.
Bottom line: Through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the gift of eternal life is on the table. It has been offered to us. How will we respond? Are we willing to receive the gift by going all in?
The wisdom of Solomon directs us to embrace the gift, take ownership of it, and use it to glorify God. Worthiness will come in the process.