Note: Fr. Ed’s homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time is now available online! Click here to listen.
What would you ask for?
Imagine having a conversation with God and He says that to you—the omnipotent ruler of the entire universe has just made Himself totally available to you, to give you whatever you request! What would you ask for? Our fallen nature always clamors for satisfaction: the flesh wants what it wants and wants it when it wants it! But if God gave you that choice, would gratifying the flesh be what you should waste such a request on? That is certainly the temptation we all face, constantly.
Solomon shows a better response. His request is that he have the wisdom he needs to better serve the People that he has been made king to serve. God approves his choice and points out that since he could have asked for other things to more directly serve himself rather than his people, God will grant him wisdom, but also grant far more besides.
Millennia later, St. Thomas Aquinas is given the same option by God. In a profound mystical experience, the Lord Jesus says to him, “You have written well of Me, Thomas. What do you desire for your reward?” St. Thomas reveals the heart of a Saint in his response: “No reward but You, Lord.” St. Thomas knew, after a life filled with serving the Lord Jesus, that the one thing that he most deeply wanted and that he could never get enough of, was a deeper and deeper union with the Lord Jesus Himself. He had learned, as St. Augustine had so eloquently put it, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts will not rest until they rest in You.” St. Thomas Aquinas was obviously far more aware of the gift of deeper union with the Lord Jesus than was Solomon, but, in a certain way, Solomon asking for wisdom was asking for that same deeper union with God, since, as he knew well, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To ask for wisdom was to ask for a deeper relationship with the Holy One of Israel. This he received in great abundance.
A Warning to Us
However, the story of Solomon also exists as a warning to us, because, though he starts so well, he does not end particularly well. The Jews trace Solomon’s “fall” by noting the difference in the tenor of three of the Biblical books ascribed to him. First, they note that in the passion of His union with God and filled with the joy of that union, he is inspired to write Song of Songs, a passionate love story that the Jews see as sung to them by the Holy One of Israel Himself. Then, with some of his initial ardor cooled, he writes the Proverbs, filled with wisdom, but lacking the level of love and passion that so marks Song of Songs. Then, far later in his life, he pens Ecclesiastes. What happened to take him from “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine” to “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity!”?
Life is full of choices, and the choice to start strong with God is the best choice we can possibly make, but the daily decision to stay strong with God is the way that that initial relationship can stay central and powerful in our lives. Solomon, so filled with love and wisdom in the beginning, apparently did not persevere in that fervor of union with the Holy One of Israel. In fact, he specifically violated Jewish law and took for himself many pagan wives. Often this was for political advantage, e.g., marrying the daughter of Pharaoh. But if you married a high-born pagan woman, you were expected to provide for her, and this included providing for her pagan religious ways. So he who built the great Temple in Jerusalem also ended up building pagan temples for his pagan wives, and so many in Israel were led astray.
The lesson is that our fidelity to the Lord Jesus cannot simply depend on a past commitment. It must be based on a commitment that is made new every day. The constant plea of our heart must be for deeper and deeper union with the Savior Who loved us first. This He will always grant, since it is His idea in the first place! Even so, come, Lord Jesus! —Fr. Ed