Discernment and deception: seeking wisdom to know what is wise

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Readings from the Catholic Comprehensive Lectionary: 1 Kings 3:5, 7–12, Psalm 119, Romans 8:26–27, Matthew 13:24–30, 33, 44–52

Opening reflection: Our readings call us to reflect upon wisdom and discernment. In the very first reading, God blesses Solomon’s desire for wisdom — something that might be an encouragement for us today. However, it is also written that God said Solomon would have no equal in the history of humanity, not before or after him. If we consider Solomon’s life, that’s a bit scary! Perhaps our first level of discernment is to consider: what is happening in our texts today? How might Jesus’ parables guide us? May God grant us wisdom as we begin.

Credit: Close-up of an Oyster with a Pearl Inside by Schäferle (CanvaPro)

Homily: My first reaction to the end of our Gospel today is to call the disciples liars. Jesus asks, “do you understand all these things?” I think an honest reaction would be, “OMG, no, what are you even talking about?” At least, that’s my gut response. But, when I give it pause and accept that I’m projecting my own confusion onto the disciples, I am more willing to accept that Jesus was likely speaking a storied language that really was all too clear to his beloved friends. These stories come from the language of their shared experiences. I’m just not part of the “in crowd.” Two-thousand years later, I have to do more work to discern meaning and figure out how, and if, these stories relate to me.

I think there’s some wisdom to that. While we have a desire to connect with something as profound as eternal truth and wisdom in our sacred scriptures, it’s really important that we have courage to look back at our texts and examine them objectively.

Let’s take Solomon as an example. Honestly, I have always appreciated this dream scene. It seems to convey the highest form of human morality. When God, in a dream, gives Solomon the chance to ask for absolutely anything, he asks for wisdom. The quick takeaway is that we should apply this to ourselves. It suggests there is nothing greater we could possibly ask of God than for wisdom. That seems wise!

But what does it say to us that scripture also records God telling Solomon he would be the wisest person to live, forward and backward throughout all of time? It tells me: don’t trust this text — or, be afraid, be very afraid!

Why? In the course of his life, the bible record shows that Solomon secured his throne through murder, put his friends in positions of power, consolidated the wealth of the Israelites, took 700 wives and 300 concubines for the sake of securing alliances with nearby territories, conscripted over 150,000 people into forced labor to build the First Temple of Jerusalem, and maintained political power through military might.

By the end of his reign, he had sown discord across the lands he controlled, largely attributed to his heavy taxation of everyone except the people of his own tribe, who he exempted from heavy taxation and the “compulsory labor” that he imposed on all others within his territories in order to build the wealth and military power he desired. His policies enriched a wealthy class in Jerusalem, and his taxation and forced labor practices abused and oppressed the working classes. In the end, this led to the division of the kingdome under his son and predecessor (Reboaham) who followed in his father’s footsteps — all of which is detailed in the biblical books of I Kings, II Chronicles, and II Samuel — though common apologetics clinch onto I Kings 11:3–3, blaming the women who “led his heart away after other gods.” We’ve never seen that before, have we? Women are so powerful we don’t even have to actually do anything to ruin everything!

History being what it is, framing this militant dictator of an emerging society as an emblem of holy wisdom is all a bit bunk, isn’t it?

But, that’s what happens when our liturgies are filled with words of wisdom attributed to him, and we don’t overtly reckon with the historical record. There is some amazing literary, liberationist, wise, and loving inspiration to be found in Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes — biblical works attributed to his authorship. But scholars reject that he actually authored these books for various reasons, including their themes, varied writing styles, and historical dating that places them far outside the range of Solomon’s lifetime. Why do you think the record maintains it was him? Revisionist history, maybe?

So, is it wise to ask God for gifts of wisdom and discernment? I would say so!! Please God, grant us eyes that see and ears that hear and good senses to detect what is true, good, and wise for us in our lives. But, is it wise to believe that, just as it is written, God made Solomon the wisest of all? Is it justifiable? My friends, I would think that a great foolery. Sometimes, people in power will do anything to justify their power or cleanse their historical record, and Solomon and his chroniclers were no different.

But this is jarring. It requires that we look upon our world with caution, and we ask questions of “ultimate” truths put before us from sources (like the bible) that we have been taught to trust. How do we know what to do?

Let’s listen to Jesus.

At some time in the night, an enemy sowed weeds among the wheat and departed without being seen. Rather than think about this parable in terms of agriculture, let’s consider the seeds of our education, socialization, and consumption of information. Often, we assume that what we are being taught is correct and good — from a source of goodwill, but in truth, lies and deception can be sown in the fields of our minds without our recognition.

Sometimes they are sown by those who think they are planting healthy fruit! It can be very hard to know the difference, especially when they are connected to patterns we are exposed to early in life — ideas that shape us into believing we have a certain value compared to others. Perhaps we are demeaned and taught we have inferior value at a personal or group level based on our gender, sexuality, abilities, disabilities, race, class, education, religion…. Perhaps we are taught we aren’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, valuable enough. Or, perhaps we are taught we are exceedingly good, deserving, and superior to others. Along that range, there are many “seeds” that could grow into weeds in our lives that choke the life out of us or others. Anything that says “you don’t matter” to any and all of us is a weed.

What do we do? Do we decide that if some information is distrustful, we should trust nothing? I think not. That would ruin the harvest of our intelligence, creativity, ingenuity, and collective pursuit of life on earth as it is in heaven. What we need is discernment, so that we are mindful as those seeds grow and learn to trace their roots. Seeds can be hard to see for what they are — but full bushes, that’s another thing!

Once we see where seeds of misguided teachings, abuses, and disinformation are taking us, we can choose to uproot them! It isn’t our fault if we were instructed in weedy ways, but it is our right and our responsibility to identify harmful ideologies and burn them so they can’t re-seed. That will give more space for life-giving grains to grow!

Perhaps the kin-dom of God is like this — a world where people seek and attain the wisdom to love ourselves as we love others — to love others as we love ourselves.

Maybe the kin-dom of God is like discovering a pearl of great price, one that shows us a way of life so beautiful that it’s reality offers something beyond the realm of what we thought humanly possible. Once we glimpse this kin-dom, we take measure of all we have and all we have known (even things of great value!), and we might recognize that to have a future defined by our possession of that pearl, we have to let go of our ideas and ways of the past.

What if the kingdom of God is like this — a woman who leavens the bread of life for a whole community by mixing yeast of kindness and love into the flour of everyday circumstances?

What if? What do you think?

What is wisdom? What is ours to discern? What is the kingdom of heaven like? And what do we seek as our pearl of great price?

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Angela Nevitt Meyer
Brownsburg Inclusive Catholic Community

Catholic priest (RCWP) all about Love & Belonging | Reproductive Dignity | 🌈 | Evolving Church | Healing Work | She/her