Homily for July 24, XVII Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A
I think all of us at some point or another have played the game of asking each other what we would wish for if we could have just one – or, more commonly, three – wishes. Once we get past the debates of whether or not we are allowed to use one wish to ask for more wishes, we get down to the really interesting part, where we explore both what we would ask for, and what the intended and unintended consequences of those wishes might be. Of course, it happens all the time in movies and fairytales. In most of the legends and stories written along these lines, at least some of the wishes backfire. For instance, in one of the books I enjoyed as a child, some children are granted the wish of surpassing beauty for twenty-four hours. As a result, no one recognizes them, and they have to spend the day and night wandering the countryside until the effects of their wish wear off.Our wishes and daydreams reflect our priorities. According to our first reading today, King Solomon was actually given the chance to make a wish, and unlike most people, he chose wisely, because he loved God and the people he was to govern. He asked for wisdom to rule, and because God was pleased with Solomon’s selfless desire, it was granted to him. Unfortunately, as events unfolded, Solomon did not always act on that wisdom he had received, and that had grave consequences, but that is another story.
God does not usually go around granting wishes, but in our daily decisions – more than in our words – we show our true priorities as we work to bring about our dreams and desires. In the parables from the Gospel reading today, Jesus gives examples of what it means to be truly dedicated to achieving our goals, and He also tells us what our true priority should be. He gives two examples of people who search for something of great value – representing the Kingdom of Heaven – and who then sell everything they have in order to obtain it. Going to heaven to be with God forever is worth more than anything else in the world.
After all, everything else is eventually lost to us, or becomes irrelevant when we die – health, wealth, pleasure, fame, and even knowledge. Often it isn’t easy to do what is right when we have to choose between the good things of this world and the supreme good of knowing, loving, and serving God. It’s often a choice between tangible, immediate rewards that appeal directly to our senses, and the indefinitely deferred promise of heaven, which is a good we can only imperfectly imagine and which requires faith. But, in the parable of the fish, Jesus reminds us that our choice is not indifferent. Those who give themselves and their own worldly well-being greater priority than God, will be separated out and thrown into the fiery furnace.
However, we are not alone when we face those decisions. God constantly offers us support and guidance in one way or another. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “all things work for good for those who love God”. Our Heavenly Father foreknew us, predestined us to receive His grace, called us to follow Him, gave us forgiveness of our sins through Christ, and gave us the glory of being His adopted children. Surely, He will always be near us if we do our best to make loving and serving Him (and each other) our highest priority.