A WISE AND DISCERNING MIND – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 12, Year A; Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

July 30, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Genesis 29:15-28 or 1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 or Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130 (97a)
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-46 (47-52)

We hear a lot about the “reign of God” in the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew calls it the “kingdom of heaven”—but nowhere does Jesus define it. Instead, he proclaims it: by associating it with the poor and marginalized, by enacting it in deeds of healing and compassion, by teaching how we are to treat one another—and by telling stories.

Jesus used a particular type of story, the parable, to help us imagine what the reign of God is like. Some of Jesus’s parables are based in ordinary experiences like planting seeds and baking bread, yet they challenge us to view the world differently and call us to make a decision for God’s reign. The reign of God, says Jesus, is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large shrub, or like a little bit of yeast that leavens a batch of dough. The growth of God’s reign may happen in simple ways that we can fail to notice—yet it is powerful and transformative, sheltering the weak and feeding the hungry.

Jesus also likens the reign of God to two people who sell everything they have. One is a trespasser who finds a treasure buried on someone else’s property, then uses all his assets to purchase the field. The other is a merchant who comes upon a “pearl of great value” (Mt 13:46) and depletes all his holdings to buy it. These two stories may well leave us scratching our heads. Did these two individuals make wise decisions? The trespasser seems dishonest and foolhardy, while the merchant lacks good business sense. Both characters hold nothing back, but risk everything, single-mindedly pursuing an objective that they believe to possess great value.

The reign of God, Jesus suggests, is as near to us as rising dough or a seed in the ground, yet it can be as elusive as a buried treasure or as that one tiny pearl. If only we recognized its worth, we would do anything, risk anything, to attain it. But how can we know where to find it? Seeking and embracing God’s reign first requires understanding, an ability to discern its presence and value. After hearing the parables of Jesus, the disciples claim to have “understood all this” (Mt 13:52)—but as we continue to read the Gospel, it’s quite clear that they didn’t quite get it, at least not yet.

If we are to grasp fully the presence of God’s reign in our ordinary experience, to appreciate its value, and to seek it above anything else, we need the kind of understanding and wisdom that Solomon prayed for in today’s Hebrew Scripture reading from the First Book of Kings. The young king asked God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kgs 3:9) to rule well, and the Holy One responded by granting him “a wise and discerning mind” (1 Kgs 3:12).

These are the same qualities that disciples of Jesus need, not to wield political power, but to follow the way of God’s rule in the world. To become truly wise requires a listening heart that is attentive to God’s word and to the signs of God’s presence in the world around us. Where in our families, communities, churches, and workplaces do we see growth that leads to life? What are we willing to give to have a part in that growth and to advance God’s reign here and now?

A Hymn for Today: “Wisdom, My Road”

Steven C. Warner, Founder and Director Emeritus of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, created hymns and songs to enrich the liturgical life of the University community, many of which have appeared in hymnals and have spread to Roman Catholic communities throughout the English-speaking world. This hymn, based on a passage from the deuterocanonical Book of Sirach, is a beautiful reflection on the role of wisdom in the life of one who seeks the ways of God. Warner’s text is set to a tune by Leslie Palmer Barnhart. Listen here.

Long before my journey’s start,
When in my youth I searched in my heart,
I would pray for her, wait for her,
Wisdom, my road, my goal, and my star.

From the blossom to the seed,
Long has she filled my cup in need,
May I cling to her vine, taste of her wine,
Wisdom, my life, my perfect design.

When I stretched my hands to the sky,
When in despair my soul raised a cry,
I was saved by her gaze, led in her ways,
Wisdom, my love, the light of my days.

Text: Sirach 51:13-22, adapt. by Steven C. Warner, b. 1954. © 1993, World Library Publications, a division of GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Tune: Leslie Palme Barnhart

Image Credit: Wisdom, Circe Denyer

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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