FROM A READING FOR JULY 24, SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.' Romans 8:28


The late scholar of wisdom literature, Rev. Roland Murphy, focused on Sunday's I Kings passage (3:5,7-12) to provide Scripture's best definition of a "wise" person.

When promised a reward from Yahweh, Solomon asks for one thing: "an understanding heart." According to Father Murphy, followers of God should be on a constant quest to acquire such a heart.

In a Bible Today article, Sister Irene Nowell writes: "Genuine wisdom is based on common human experience and the ability to learn from experiences, whether pleasant or painful.... The wise person is someone fully alive. Such a person is indeed a revelation of God."

There's more to Jesus' ministry than just getting us into heaven. We know from Mark's narrative of His encounter with the rich young man that Jesus presumes people were "getting into heaven" before they heard His stump speech about the "kingdom of God."

Jesus' kingdom of God/heaven doesn't refer to the place we plan to enter after we physically die, but to God working effectively in our lives right here and now. Jesus came to teach us how to live wisely, in the biblical sense. He was concerned with those who wasted their lives before they reached heaven.

Life right now
That's why Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52) is so important. It addresses basic questions: "How do we find it? What's it like? What do I have to do to enter it?"

The first part gives a profile of the kind of people who surface God working in their lives: individuals constantly searching for deeper, more meaningful experiences.

Notice the aspect of discovery: "a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all she or he has and buys that field;" "a pearl of great price which someone finds [then] goes and sells all one has and buys it."

A searching frame of mind seems to be essential - and one reason Jesus rarely interacts with Sadducees. The ultra-conservatives of His day and age, they refused to take the faith-steps the more liberal Pharisees had taken years (even centuries) before.

Sadducees didn't believe in an afterlife as we know it, denied the existence of angels and regarded only the first five biblical books as divinely inspired. Believing they already had total truth, they simply defended the status quo.

True message
Rarely would they have spent any time reflecting on their faith experiences. Their understanding hearts had been squelched a long time ago. Why would they be interested in an itinerant preacher who went around talking about the kingdom of God?

In writing to the Roman Church about "predestined" individuals, Paul (Romans 8:28-30) seems to be referring to the traits the historical Jesus presumed in those who accepted His message.

Perhaps we, as a Church, have been distracted from Jesus' original purpose. We've developed religious disciplines based on penance and self-denial, believing such practices will get us into heaven.

Jesus, on the other hand, wanted His followers to develop their searching and discovery skills. He believed "wise" people were better prepared to uncover God's kingdom right here and now, not just get into heaven.