Seventeenth Sunday of the Year: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Ps 119; Rm 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-46

“The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said: ‘Ask what you would like me to give you.’ ” The simplest of questions – what do you want? – lays bare the deepest truths about ourselves. Confronted with the same question the young King Solomon might well have been tempted to ask for victory in battle and triumph over his enemies. Such a choice would have revealed him as little better than the many kings condemned by Israel’s prophets.

We live in a very different world from that of Israel’s early kings, but the question of what we want continues to reveal who we really are. What does it say about us if our driving wants are measured by what we can possess and what we can control? Solomon refused to be determined by such wants. Instead, he asked for the wisdom to discern between the good and bad in the many wants that drive our behaviour. “Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil.”

Solomon’s request points our lives to the prayer of discernment. He who makes such a prayer stands humbly before the Lord, conscious that he longs only for our well-being. In that presence we ask ourselves what we really want.

As we review the many wants in our lives, the Holy Spirit enables us to discern what is worthy of the Lord and what is to be discarded. This is the discerning judgment requested by the young Solomon, the judgment that is best served in the humility that listens to God’s presence.

The parables of the hidden treasure and pearl of great price call us to the same discernment. The pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field are nothing less than Christ’s saving presence among us. We cannot doubt that through the death and Resurrection of the Lord we live in the midst of that presence. Sadly, our many preoccupations and distractions obscure what has already been entrusted to us, making the grace of God like a hidden treasure, like a precious pearl yet to be discovered.

The parables call for discernment. The merchant sells everything in order to purchase the pearl of great price. The treasure hunter abandons everything to acquire the field that holds the treasure. In prayer we allow the Spirit to lead us to God’s presence and, having recognised that presence, abandon everything that hinders its path. We are the dragnet in the parable, the repository of life’s experience, both good and bad. Only in prayer do we truly recognise what is good, what is to be discarded.

Such prayerful discernment helps us the better to understand Paul’s description of salvation. “We know that by turning everything to their good God cooperates with those who love him, with all those he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son.”

At times we struggle to understand these words. How can God turn to good the overwhelming tragedies that sometimes threaten the most blameless lives? Only in the prayer of discernment are we able to understand that our brokenness is one with the crucified Lord, our joy one with his Resurrection.

There is an inner wisdom that longs for communion with the Lord, and allows that Lord to bring us safely through life’s triumphs and tragedies.