Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking Responsibility for the Kingdom

This is my homily from last weekend given at Saint Ambrose Parish, Anderson, IN (St. Mary's got a shortened version because it was oppressively hot and they do not have air conditioning in the church):

I grew up with an older brother and sandwiched between two sisters. My brother was the oldest and so I wasn’t all that close to him. I ended up being closer to my older sister and, being somewhat of a mama’s boy, I often found myself watching things like beauty pageants on TV, because that’s what my mom and my sister wanted to watch.

I don’t hear much about them anymore, but back in the ‘80s the Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Universe contests all had that allure of pageantry and glamour that made it all seem fascinating to me. For me the highlights were the talent portion, where these women would display their incredible abilities to play instruments, to sing, or to dance, and also the evening gown competition, as each tried to outdo the other in having the most luxurious dress. Then, there was the interview portion, where these women had to respond to questions with extremely complicated answers with poise and alacrity to prove that they could represent the best of our nation (or the world) on a world stage. Inevitably, the “one wish” question would come up. “If you could have one wish for anything in the world, what would it be?” After watching a few of these you quickly learned that if a contestant even hinted at wishing for something for themselves, that their chance at winning the crown was gone. And, as years went on, the answers to these became somewhat rote and always altruistic. “I would wish that there would be world peace.” “I would wish for an end to world hunger.” “I would wish for a cure for cancer.” While these are all wonderful things to wish for, the fact that they became the “pat” answer to this question made these young women seem to me to be rather fake and inauthentic.

In today’s first reading, we see God putting King Solomon through a similar “interview” as he is taking over the reins of the kingdom from his father David. As we hear the dialogue between God and Solomon, we can almost feel the tension building as Solomon discerns what it is that he should ask for from God. Waiting with abated breath we hear his answer: “Wisdom.” “Wisdom? NO! He is supposed to ask for world peace or an end to hunger or that everyone in the world would be as rich as he is! What was he thinking!?!?” Yet we soon hear that God was pleased with his answer… Why?

Well, first Solomon acknowledged his relationship with God. He acknowledged that the kingdom that he has been given is really God’s kingdom and that the people he is ruling are really God’s people and that, in actuality, it was God who had made him ruler over his people. Because he had a relationship with God, Solomon knew that God wasn’t just some divine magician who could be called upon to magically make everything wrong in the world right. Instead, he knew that God had called him to rule over his people and that God had given him the great responsibility to care for and provide for his people. With such a great task and the shadow of his father, king David, looming over him, Solomon humbly acknowledged that he couldn’t handle this task alone and that he needed God’s help to fulfill the work that he was calling him to. Thus, he didn’t ask that there would be no problems, but rather that he would have the understanding—the wisdom—to lead his people well in both good times and in bad. And God was pleased with his answer.

I think that many days we find ourselves in a similar situation to Solomon yet we hardly recognize it. Daily we are surrounded by the needs of God’s people and yet all we can think to do is to pray that God will wave his hand over the earth and make it all go away. We fail to recognize that the task of building God’s kingdom here on earth has been given to us. Certainly, God doesn’t need us for the building of his kingdom—he is all-powerful and can handle it himself—but in his desire for a relationship with us, he invites us to participate in the work of building up his kingdom here on earth. With that in mind, then, perhaps we can look to the example of Solomon to see how we can pray and thus know what to ask for when we come before God with our needs.

When we come before God we must first acknowledge our relationship with him. Solomon acknowledged before God that he was God’s servant, called to care for and to rule over God’s people. And so we too must acknowledge that God has called us to a particular task for the building up of his kingdom. Next our task is to ask God for the understanding to know how he has called us to participate in alleviating the problem or issue that we are bringing before him. Solomon, recognizing the great responsibility that God had given him, asked for understanding to be able to judge God’s people well. First time parents, I suspect, are quite familiar with this prayer. Faced with the responsibility of caring for and raising a child, new parents ought to find frequent recourse to pray for the understanding they need to raise their children. Finally, as we begin to take responsibility for the tasks that God has given us, then we will find the things that we truly do need God’s intervention for—such as a miraculous healing from an addiction or the conversion of a family member long estranged from the Church. Then, we can come again before God, trusting that he hears and answers these prayers too. When we pray in this way, taking responsibility for the things God has called us to and asking for God’s wisdom to fulfill them, we not only engage in our relationship with him, but we also make ourselves open to uncovering the hidden treasures that are the kingdom of heaven.

My brothers and sisters, the characters in the parables from today’s Gospel reading were “surprised by joy” to find the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value. When we accept the particular way that God has called us to build his kingdom here on earth, then we too will be “surprised by joy” when we find the ways in which the kingdom is being realized in our midst—a family healed after the leaving off of an addiction or the deathbed conversion of that long-estranged family member. This is the same kingdom that each week we come together to realize and to celebrate when we come here to worship at this altar and to share in the meal that is a participation in the eternal banquet of heaven, the banquet of the God’s kingdom yet to come. Let us pray, then, for God’s wisdom to take up the task that he has given us for the building of his kingdom and thus to be surprised by joy when his kingdom appears like a great treasure before us.

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