Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 26, 2020
A set of histories in the Hebrew Scriptures tell of a long-repeated cycle of virtue and decline, punishment, repentance, and forgiveness. The cycle applies to the people, to their priests and their kings. This is the story of a high point in the life of Judah's third king.
Earlier in the letter to the Romans, Saint Paul described revolutionary changes in the ways God deals with his people. Paul gives repeated assurances that the changes don't endanger our salvation, they enhance it.
Jesus describes some moments of unbelievably good fortune, for which people will pay the greatest price possible. He asks how that compares to our desire for the kingdom of God.
Our Liturgical Setting: Today's gospel, Matthew 13:44-52, concludes a long series of parables about the reign of God. Summing them up, Jesus praises those who have listened carefully and understood. This praise of the wise in today's gospel seems to justify this choice of first reading. It's the famous story of Solomon's request for wisdom.
The Historical Situation: In the Hebrew Scriptures there is a large section of history divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into the books from Joshua to 2 Kings. The drama consistently goes like this: God is good to the people and asks only their fidelity; the people and their leaders (kings, priests and prophets) sin, usually by idolatry; God angrily punishes them, often through an enemy nation; the people suffer and ask forgiveness; God grants mercy and the cycle begins again. Today's reading tells of a spiritual high point in the life of King Solomon, but other chapters predictably tell of his sins.
Proclaiming It: You should read this as a story, that is, dramatically, making the voices of the speakers sound like real dialog. I don't mean this irreverently, but think of how you would tell a child a story about a beachcomber who finds a brass lamp; a genie emerges and offers the finder three wishes ... Today's first reading has a similar dramatic character, although theologically it's miles above anything in The Arabian Nights.
Your reading should make wisdom sound like the most desirable thing on earth. Make God sound absolutely delighted to grant Solomon's wish. Make your listeners want to ask God for wisdom. Make them want wisdom more than they want a winning lottery ticket or a brass lamp.
First of Two Possible Liturgical Settings: Perhaps the ambitious preacher in your congregation has been speaking about the series of readings from Romans that began in early June. If so, this survey (Click here) of the selections from Romans in the Lectionary this season will help you appreciate where the preacher is going. It may remind you of the ground that your congregation has recently covered. That, in turn, will inform your proclamation, so you can help all to move forward another step.
Proclaiming it in Another Possible Liturgical Setting: But maybe no one is helping your community tune in to this challenging letter. Still, there are two sayings here that might fall on some eager ears.
Extra! Each Sunday passage from Romans in context: Click here to see a table summarizing the readings from Romans from the 9th to the 24th Sundays of Ordinary Time, this year.
Socrates and Aristotle wondering at the wisdom of Solomon (perhaps). Scholar Theodore Feder examines what he says is the earliest existing picture of a scene from the Bible. You will recall that the writers of the Bible's books were famously averse to pictures, statues, images of any kind, lest the people treat them as idols. The picture Feder treats comes from "a site that is perhaps better known to some for its erotic art than for its religious devotions: Pompeii. The city was buried in volcanic ash in 79 A.D. following the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius. It was a devastating tragedy for Pompeii’s residents but a boon to modern scholars and art historians."
"In the building known as the House of the Physician, excavators found a wall painting clearly depicting King Solomon seated on a raised tribunal and flanked by two counselors." The scene is 1 Kings 3:16–28, the famous story of Solomon adjudicating the claims of two mothers to one child. Feder has a fascinating description of why he thinks the two characters in the lower left corner of the picture are Socrates and Aristotle. Read his article here.
This page updated June 10, 2020