Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

A study was done of 220,000 college freshmen as to what was “important” or “essential” for them. One of the highest values came with 80% saying they wanted to be “well-off financially.” On the other end, 48% said they wanted to develop a “meaningful philosophy of life.” The results, when compared with the same survey fifty years prior may indicate a shift in societal values. The percentages of these two categories were nearly reversed in the earlier study.

We are invited today to ponder what we value most in life. What is truly important to us? To help reflect on the question we might ask ourselves questions like how do I use my time? What do I spend money on? What do I read or watch? What do I do to help people? There are plenty of other questions or topics that could be used to prompt some reflection. The important thing here is to reflect on what is important to us.

Two of the three parables Jesus offers in this week’s gospel passage invite us to think along these lines. He says the “Kingdom of heaven,” (elsewhere referred to as the “Kingdom of God”) is like a buried treasure or a pearl of great price.

In other words, the “Kingdom of heaven,” is valuable. So valuable that the person finding the buried treasure goes and sells all he/she has so that they can purchase the field in which the treasure is buried. They “have to have it.” Likewise the merchant searching for fine pearls, once he finds that “pearl of great price” he goes and sells all that he owns to purchase it.

Jesus is using these to have us reflect on this great gift that is available for us – “the Kingdom of heaven.” Its important that we remember that the “Kingdom of heaven” is not just in the afterlife or afterworld. The “Kingdom of heaven” is that place where God reigns as King. He does so now. The citizens of His Kingdom are those who seek to live as he has taught, for all that He has revealed leads us to life. Perhaps Jesus is inviting us to consider how much we value God’s rule in our lives. Do we treasure His way so much that we would go and sell everything we have just to have it? It sounds pretty radical. In a way it definitely is.

Many of the prominent early disciples did just that, they left everything to follow Him. Why? Because nothing was more valuable.

Solomon, in the early days of his reign, gives witness to one who value’s God’s ways above all else. In the passage from I Kings, God offers Solomon anything he would want. Imagine that – God can give him anything and He offers to do so. No one else can do that except God.

Solomon’s reply indicates a deep appreciation of and value for the things of God. He asks for an “understanding heart to judge your people” and “to distinguish right from wrong.”

In his role as King, he is to be the judge or arbiter of cases. He wants to do so fairly, not seeking his own or his friends interests but to be truly just in his decisions. He wants to do so with compassion. He wants to know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong. He is seeking that ability from the One who knows the difference. God is pleased with Solomon’s request and he grants him the gift of wisdom.

Psalm 119 praises God for his revelation to mankind. He tells us how to live well and good. The psalmist says: “The law of your mouth is to me more precious that thousands of gold and silver pieces.” He recognizes God as kind and compassionate and seeks Him to pour these out. Over and over he sings of the value of God’s word, or law: “your law is my delight,” “I love your command more than gold,” “for all your precepts I go forward,” “wonderful are your decrees,” and “the revelation of your words sheds light giving understanding to the simple.”

The values here are those that lead one on the path of life. It is not one that seeks wealth for wealth’s sake; or employment for employment’s sake; or knowledge for personal satisfaction.

Rather the value is in that the pursuit of the good and true lie in that they are God’s way, and places one on the path to life. It both reveals and calls for a trust and confidence in God.

The things we consider most important in life places us on a path. Many times our decisions and actions are directly or indirectly effected by it.

Jesus invites us to ponder the value of the Kingdom in our lives today. Renewing our commitment to the Lord and His Way we can join the psalmist and with wholehearted joy proclaim: “Lord, I love your commands.”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.