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“What I would give if I could …” How many dreams, hopes and aspirations have been introduced with these or similar words? How many regrets and sorrows have been given similar expression? What I would give if I could have told my Mom or Dad how much I loved them before they died. What I would give if could quit my job and retire early. What I would give if could be a world class athlete, writer, singer, artist or dancer. What I would give if I could win the lottery. The list could go on and on.
What would you give if you could enter the Kingdom of heaven? Now there’s something to truly desire. Today’s readings speak of the importance of having that hope and desire.
In our first reading, King Solomon is gifted by God with a golden opportunity in a dream. And he doesn’t even have to give anything! God just simply says, “Ask, and it’s yours”. If given the same opportunity, what would you have asked for? For someone like Solomon in that period of history, and with the position he held as King of Israel, it would have been only natural to have asked for riches for himself and his people, or for power, or for a great army so as to conquer his enemies and expand his kingdom. But he doesn’t – he asks for an understanding mind – he asks for wisdom, so that he can be a good, wise, compassionate and faith-filled king – a true man of God. Solomon recognized this was all that truly mattered. Not riches, not power, but to be good, to be wise, to be a person of faith.
Wisdom is also featured in our gospel. Jesus speaks first of a person who sold all he had to buy a field where he discovered buried treasure, and then of a merchant who similarly sold all he had to buy just one pearl. In these two scenarios, Jesus reminds us that the supreme value of entering into the Kingdom of Heaven is worth any risk or sacrifice. The two persons featured in these parables were willing to readjust their values and priorities in their lives to make this happen.
What are the priorities and values in your life? No doubt for you that many priorities have been examined and challenged since the onset of the COVID- 19 pandemic. We have been confronted with the fragility of all that we have taken for granted. This time has also forced us to consider a very basic reality of life – that we won’t be around here forever, as alluded to very strongly by Jesus in the second half of our gospel. This reality is also expressed in a bit of down-home wisdom in the book, As I Lay Dying, written by the great American novelist, William Faulkner. One of the characters of the book is Addie Bundren, a crusty old woman, who is about to die. On her death-bed, Addie says, “The only reason for living is to get ready to stay dead for a long time”. It’s true. And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend that long time in the Kingdom of Heaven. And our readings today remind us to consider what should be the #1 priority in our lives – making sure that what we do and say in life enables us to spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven.
But of course the Kingdom of heaven is not just up there – it’s also meant to be found here. The Scottish biblical scholar William Barclay said that the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of society on earth in which God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven (just like we say in the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father). Therefore, to enter the Kingdom is to accept and to do God’s will – like living out the teachings of Jesus in this life. To do so, though may require that we give up certain hopes and desires that may be very near and dear to our hearts. To do so will also mean that we need to come terms with the new realities we find ourselves in at this time of pandemic. Entering into the Kingdom does mean taking up the various crosses that come our way throughout our lives, just as Jesus asked of us.
Despite the cost and struggle, we are assured by St. Paul in our second reading that “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him”. St. Paul reminds us that the God who made us and sustains us and supports us desires that in the life that is come He will glorify us. That is a lovely thought. And as that crusty old lady named Addie Bundren says, that glory will last a long, long time. To that we say, "Amen."