Sunday, July 30, 2023

How to Have the Heart of a King: Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"The Dream of King Solomon", Luca Giordano, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

 My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Some days ago, on the thirteenth of July to be exact, in the course of the Office of Readings, I read an extract from the first book ofChronicles (22: 5-11) which contained a conversation that King David had with his son Solomon before his death. As we well know, King David felt ashamed that while he lived in a palace, a house built of cedar, the Lord God of Israel lived in a tent. In this conversation from the first book of Chronicles, we learn that when King David revealed to his son that when he set about to build a house in honour of the Lord the Word of the Lord came to him and said:

You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth. See, a son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; indeed, his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.

Obedient to the word of the Lord, King David did not construct the temple, but commanded his son Solomon to construct this house, a task that Solomon eventually fulfilled.

I smiled when I read this extract, because I realised that Kind David had misunderstood. The word of the Lord was not referring to King Solomon, but, in fact, to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Recollect, the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah, which we read at Christmastime, which points out to us that Our Lord is also a son of David:

For a child has been born for us,

    a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders,

    and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

It would be Our Lord who would construct a temple in honour of the name of His Father, a throne that would be established forever, and never be destroyed. This temple would be His own body, which would be resurrected after His death on the cross, and exists now and forever, reigning at the right hand of his Father.

The reason I give you this backstory is so that we can better appreciate the first reading weheard today, which recounts the conversation between Solomon and God. Another reason I recounted this backstory was to underline that the historic King Solomon was merely a prefiguring of Our Lord. We can see in Solomon a form which will find completion in Our Lord. Understanding Solomon in this way, we can gain an insight into the interior life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Take, for example, the conversation between Solomon and God in the first reading. This conversation allows us a window into the conversation that God the Son had with God the Father, that is to say, the prayer of the Son to the Father.

Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart

to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.

Through this conversation between Solomon and God we can peer into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A heart that is understanding, and one that can distinguish between right and wrong. In other words, a wise heart. As the Lord God of Israel promised Solomon:

I give you a heart so wise and understanding

that there has never been anyone like you up to now,

and after you there will come no one to equal you.

In presenting to us the example of King Solomon, and above all that of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Holy Mother Church is indicating to us the prayer that we ought to be making to God. We should not ask, as if often our habit, for riches, or in terms of the first reading of today, for the life of our enemies – whether it be ill health, a situation that we wish to be delivered from, or perhaps a person we do not like and cannot stand. No! We ought to always ask for an understanding heart, a heart like that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a heart that is wise and understanding, a heart which will – to put it in the words of the psalm we sang today – love His laws, and therefore a heart which can distinguish between good and wrong.

And Our Lord Himself wishes that this be our prayer, because if not, how will we be able to distinguish between what is good and will go into the baskets, and what is bad and must be thrown away?

The encounter between Solomon and God took place in the context of Solomon being King and his petition was to aid his capacity as king and ruler. We too, who are baptised into Christ are called to be rulers; some of us are rulers over others, whether our families, or populations we serve. But all of us are rulers over our desires and the graces God has given us. We need to us the grace of discernment – i.e., the grace to distinguish between good and bad – to aid us in the exercise of the power of governance that has been given to each and every one of us.

But there is something else here that we need to pay attention to. The things that Our Lord recommends to us in today’s Gospel are not exactly sane or pragmatic. Selling all we have to own a treasure in a field, or for a pearl of great price; this makes no earthly sense! But if Our Lord is recommending this, it is because he is indicating to us that the things of this world are good only as long as they serve to bring us to the Kingdom of God. Just as King Solomon, and Our Lord, we should view the things of this world with an insight that comes from an wise heart.

It is for this reason, my dear brothers, and sisters, that we should always pray this little prayer associated with the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

Jesus, Meek and Humble of Heart, Make my Heart Like Unto Thine.

(A version of this homily was first preached in Portuguese at the parish church of São Nicolau, Lisbon)

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