Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
February 12, 2014
1 Kings 10:1-10; Ps 37; Mk 7:14-23
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- In the first reading today, we have the remarkable scene of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Sheba was located at the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula, encompassing modern Yemen and parts of Ethiopia. She and her enormous retinue undertook a journey of about 2,300 miles — the walking distance basically between Boston and Phoenix, Arizona! — in order to come into Solomon’s presence in search of his wisdom. She had heard reports in her country thousands of miles away about his wisdom and his deeds and had come to test him with subtle questions. Solomon explained everything she asked about, the first Book of Kings relates, and there remained nothing that he could not explain to her. She said that his wisdom surpassed even the reports she had heard and she praised the great fortune of Solomon’s servants who had a chance to be with him and hear his wisdom, and she emptied her treasury, giving him 120 gold talents ($185 million in today’s money, since one talent is basically 75 pounds, the price of gold today is $1,288 per ounce, and there are 16 ounces in a pound, so the value is 120*75*1288*16 = 185,472,000), a huge quantity of spices and precious stones. She valued Solomon’s wisdom more than that enormous fortune. That’s why God was so pleased when Solomon asked for the gift of wisdom, for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong,” instead of wealth, a long life, or the defeat of enemies. God’s wisdom is more valuable than wealth, health and winning battles. Like Solomon, the Queen of Sheba recognized this, sought it and was willing to give anything for it.
- That points first to how much we value God’s wisdom, whether we would pay an enormous sum to obtain it, whether we would walk 2300 miles through a desert to obtain it, whether we would have the hunger and the unanswered questions about so many things with regard to human life to grasp how much we need it.
- But there’s a more important point. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus referred to this hunger of the Queen of Sheba and said that it’s a test for the people of his age and our own. “At the judgment,” he said, “the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.” If she would have made such a journey and expended so much for Solomon’s wisdom, how much more should we desire and be willing to sacrifice to obtain Jesus’ own teaching! In the Responsorial Psalm today we proclaimed “the mouth of the just murmurs wisdom,” that if we’re truly in a right relationship with God, we are going to be “regurgitating” on God’s wisdom, speaking about it to ourselves, trying to understand it, and speaking of it to others. If we’re just, we’re going to be murmuring on these things more than the weather, more than sports, more than politics, more than the stories on the front pages of newspapers.
- Today in the Gospel, Jesus gives us his wisdom on something that was truly revolutionary in the Jewish mindset of his day. “Hear me, all of you, and understand,” Jesus said. “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Right before this, in the Gospel we briefly encountered yesterday, we recall that Jesus was criticized because he and his disciples didn’t do the scrupulous ritual washings of the Jews, of their hands, their cups, jugs, kettles, beds and so many other objects. I’ve explained before what the ritual washing of hands was all about. It had nothing really to do with hygiene. You’d take one-and-a-half egg shells of ritually clean water and pour it down your hands from the fingers toward the palms, and then made a fist and scrub the other hand until it was dry. Then you’d take another one-and-a-half egg shells of ritually clean water and go in the other direction. Unless you did this, whatever you ate would be unclean. And if you touched a cup, or a pot, or someone else who wasn’t purified in these same intricate ways, you were now ritually impure and anything or anyone you touched would likewise be ritually impure. This hadn’t been given to us by God, and yet it had become the obsession of the Jews in Jesus’ today. That’s why he said that they were setting aside God’s commandments — like honoring and caring for parents — in order to uphold these human traditions.
- Jesus said that nothing coming from the outside, either touching a jug or a ritually impure person, or even anything you eat can make you impure in the sight of God. The purity that concerns God, he said, is what comes from the heart. Jesus had come to give us a heart transplant, to take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, hearts like his, that could love God and others. He had come to set us on the path of beatitude, in this life and in the next, and enunciated that blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. The heart is the real core of the person, pointing to what we love and desire. It’s what’s in the heart — and the actions that flow from the heart — that renders a person pure or impure. Jesus describes several desires in the heart that defile us: “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” The last one, folly, is basically the lack of wisdom. The Greek word that St. Mark uses, aphrosune, doesn’t point to an imprudence flowing from a frail brain or intellect, but moral foolishness, those who play the fool by acting foolishly, by acting contrary to God’s wisdom.
- And so Jesus points us inward to our heart and what our heart really desires. Do we desire chastity or unchastity? Do we desire spiritual poverty or greed and envy? Do we desire fidelity or adultery? Do we desire the good of others or wish them evil? Do we desire to praise God with our life or to blaspheme? Do we desire humility or arrogance? Ultimately, do we desire wisdom or folly?
- Jesus, who is greater than Solomon, wants to give us an even greater wisdom than he gave Solomon and Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba. Jesus gives us his Holy Word and even more importantly he gives us his Holy Spirit to guide us through the gift of wisdom and prudence to know and to live wisdom. But it’s up to us to desire it, to prioritize it, to seek it, to live by it.
- There’s a greater than Solomon here with us. What we’ve just heard something more valuable $185 million. We are about to do something far more valuable than all the money in the world: enter into a holy communion with the Wisdom of God made flesh. This is worth traveling across deserts and countries for 2300 miles. May we in response to these gifts praise God like the Queen of Sheba, give ourselves and all we have in response to God’s lavish generosity, and then go to announce this holy wisdom to the world.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 KGS 10:1-10
came to test him with subtle questions.
She arrived in Jerusalem with a very numerous retinue,
and with camels bearing spices,
a large amount of gold, and precious stones.
She came to Solomon and questioned him on every subject
in which she was interested.
King Solomon explained everything she asked about,
and there remained nothing hidden from him
that he could not explain to her.When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom,
the palace he had built, the food at his table,
the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters,
his banquet service,
and the burnt offerings he offered in the temple of the LORD,
she was breathless.
“The report I heard in my country
about your deeds and your wisdom is true,” she told the king.
“Though I did not believe the report until I came and saw with my own eyes,
I have discovered that they were not telling me the half.
Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard.
Blessed are your men, blessed these servants of yours,
who stand before you always and listen to your wisdom.
Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice.”
Then she gave the king one hundred and twenty gold talents,
a very large quantity of spices, and precious stones.
Never again did anyone bring such an abundance of spices
as the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.
PS 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40
Commit to the LORD your way;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.
R. The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.
The mouth of the just man tells of wisdom
and his tongue utters what is right.
The law of his God is in his heart,
and his steps do not falter.
R. The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
R. The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.
“Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.”When he got home away from the crowd
his disciples questioned him about the parable.
He said to them,
“Are even you likewise without understanding?
Do you not realize that everything
that goes into a person from outside cannot defile,
since it enters not the heart but the stomach
and passes out into the latrine?”
(Thus he declared all foods clean.)
“But what comes out of the man, that is what defiles him.
From within the man, from his heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”