17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
I Kgs 3:5, 7-12
Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130,
Possible preaching themes:
The greatest gift: understanding and empathy (connected to 1 Kings)
- The joy of finding unexpected treasure (related to 1 Kings and the Gospel)
- Encountering the kingdom of heaven in ordinary life — discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, often by accident (from the Gospel)
Possible scientific resources:
- How do we come to have empathy and understand others? Neuroscientists say there is a mechanism that makes is possible. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123741769000178?utm_source=pocket_reader
- A readable and accessible article looks at the psychology of empathy. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/neuroscience-empathy
- Searching and discovery
- How curiosity has led to groundbreaking new medications https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/most-transformative-meds-originate-in-curiosity-driven-science-evidence-says/
- A blog post reminds readers that some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs happened by accident. https://www.mynewlab.com/blog/accidental-scientific-discoveries-and-breakthroughs/
- Wonder and awe
- A key part of our mental health, researchers say, is continuing to embrace wonder and awe. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/03/well/live/awe-wonder-dacher-keltner.html
- This longer white paper [45 pages] present an extensive yet accessible overview of recent studies that explore awe empirically https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Awe_FINAL.pdf
Homily outline combining resources: The Kingdom of God is a thing of astonishment and joy, waiting to be discovered — and closer than we may realize
- Introduction: Pondering the kingdom of God
- Jesus sets out to explain the Kingdom of God to his disciples in today’s gospel.
- He offers an extended series of similes built around the idea of discovery:
- the kingdom is like a treasure found in a field;
- it is like a merchant who discovers a fine pearl;
- it is like a net thrown into the sea that catches all kinds of fish.
- The prevailing message is that the kingdom is something both commonplace and rare — familiar yet surprising, filling the heart with joy when it is encountered.
- He elaborates further, explaining that “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven” is like one who “brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”
- Jesus is suggesting here that the kingdom is something both ancient and new — both expected and unexpected – to be discovered and redefined by the disciples who are hearing these words.
- The scientific turn
- One of the recurring themes in this gospel is the idea of discovery. The kingdom is found, perhaps, when least expected — and yields riches beyond imagining.
- The scientific world is riddled with breakthroughs caused by happy accidents. Throughout history, some of the most important scientific discoveries have happened by accident or coincidence, such as
- and the microwave.
- Researchers have found that we are, by nature, people on a quest. Our brains are wired to help us find what we seek. We search, we question, we dialogue with one another, all to discover what we are looking for.
- The result of all this searching and discovery can reenforce a sense of awe and wonder. Scientists say being aware of wonder has emotional, psychological and even spiritual benefits.
- Christ’s message to his disciples
- In this fairly short passage, Jesus offers images of the kingdom that are both familiar and surprising — which is his point.
- He also suggests that finding the kingdom takes some effort.
- “Seek and you shall find,” in some ways, is a kind of thesis statement for this lesson.
- It’s interesting to note that in this passage, Jesus uses a series of similes or comparisons that would resonate with his particular audience:
- someone digging up a treasure in a field,
- a merchant looking for a pearl,
- a fisherman tossing a net into the sea.
- To modern listeners, they may seem antiquated or quaint.
- But to the people of his day, Jesus was offering an astonishing idea: the kingdom is closer than you may realize.
- It is accessible to anyone with (so to speak) a shovel, a net or the desire to find something of value.
- All you need to do is dig, cast or look.
- The Takeaway: Seeking and finding the kingdom around us
- All of us, in many ways, are people on a quest — seeking things of quantifiable value, such as more stylish clothing, a better car or a higher paying job.
- Often we are further motivated to pursue more immeasurable values, such as dignity, self-worth, purpose, satisfaction, peace of mind, joy or love.
- In this gospel, Jesus reveals that what we truly treasure is found in the kingdom of God, and it is closer than we may realize.
- Jesus drives home the idea that the kingdom is not a place, or a destination, or a geographical point on the map.
- Rather, it is a way of living and loving:
- what the early followers of Jesus would call “The Way.”
- The disciples were taught that this kingdom was something both familiar and surprising, and that discovering it would fill their hearts with unexpected joy.
- All of us may be seeking to find the kingdom in our lives. Where do we find it?
- Everything we seek does not always lead us to the kingdom revealed in Jesus.
- Thus, we need some guidance for discerning what is of passing value and what is that pearl of great price.
- The first reading gives us something of that litmus test
- Solomon did not act in his self-interest
- He did not ask for earthly riches
- Nor did he seek revenge or violence on enemies.
- Rather, he asks for an understanding heart.
- God’s understanding heart is fully revealed in Jesus’ own sacred heart
- A heart that communicated love for the stranger
- respect for the marginalized
- and justice for the outcasts.
- Today we also pray for understanding hearts, that together we too might further God’s reign in our lives and in the world.
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