Sunday, 30 July 2023

Seeking wisdom from the treasury

1 Kings 3.5-12 I give you a wise and discerning mind.

Romans 8.26-39 Nothing can separate us from the love of God

Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52 The master brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.


‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’




‘Have you understood all this?’


Jesus asked his disciples that question at the conclusion of a whole series of parables; parables we have been hearing over the past few weeks as our Gospel reading: the parable of the sower, the wheat and the weeds, and today the mustard seed and the leaven, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price and the net.


‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered ‘yes’.


I’m tempted to say, ‘really? Have you really understood all this?’


The disciples said ‘yes’, they did understand, and in response Jesus is not incredulous, but says slightly mysterious and intriguing words:


Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matthew 13.52)


So, the parables have been training the disciples, and by extension us, for the kingdom of heaven.


The disciples have been trained into being scribes, those learned in sacred law and holy wisdom.


And what a teacher they, and we, have. Not a homespun guru or moral exemplar, but Divine Wisdom Incarnate; Divine Wisdom in person: Jesus Christ.


Thus trained, the scribe can bring out of the treasury new insight and ancient wisdom.


It’s like an apprenticeship. The apprentice learns from the one who has mastery of the subject by listening to the master and trying out the craft in clear, incremental steps.


The apprentice is doomed the moment he or she decides they know best.


Imagine the novice violinist who decides that she can play the violin and need not bother with the teacher.


She might watch a two-minute YouTube video, but that’s about all the advice we want now; the result is an abrasive, scratching sound, not a melody.


And we recognise it as just bad.


That’s different from the novice who is carefully working on the disciplines of violin playing, building up skills, strength and stamina base, to ensure good quality sound; practising so that, in time, the beauty of the music can be heard.


It’s the same with the visual arts, with crafts, with dance, with calligraphy, with engineering and, indeed, with the Christian life.


But that’s hard in today’s culture.


We live in a culture that cherishes novelty and despises what is ancient; it’s a culture that says ‘I don’t need the disciplines, Christian or otherwise; I don’t need the teaching or the inherited wisdom of the past; that gets in my way, that makes me less free, oh and, by the way, I want everything now’.


The spiritual life, intimacy with God, does not and cannot work like that.


The parables train us, school us, and shape us into the ways of the kingdom of heaven.


It’s no accident, I am sure, that the parables draw on images of patient and deep growth: seeds growing, bread proving and yeast rising, persistent searching and its corollary, joyful finding.


Parables root us fruitfully in God’s life.


They are ancient wisdom and are endlessly generative and continue to form our minds and hearts and action in the way of the kingdom of heaven.


The paradox is that ancient wisdom reveals fresh insight; ancient wisdom enables us to live today wisely.


To go back to our violinist, but translate that to the spiritual life, when we refuse the schooling of the spiritual mastery of the teaching of Christ we are rejecting a life well lived, and our life – spiritual and physical – is scratchy, unmelodious, unattractive and just plain bad.


So let us turn to our Old and New Testament readings for today and see what we draw out of the treasury, both old and new.


In our first reading from the treasury we hear about the famous King Solomon.


His name is a byword for wisdom, riches and splendour.


When God asked him what gift he wanted at the outset of his reign as new King of Israel, Solomon chose not to ask for a long life or riches or retribution on his enemies – as many young, new rulers would - but rather a wise and discerning mind, the ability to discern what is right, discerning between good and evil.


That is an example to us: it echoes through what is known as the ‘wisdom literature’ of the scriptures, the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon.


Those books tell us of the value of wisdom and pose the question, ‘where is wisdom to be found?’ (cf Job 28.1; 28.12; 28.20) .


In the face of all the choices we are asked to make today the gift of a wise and discerning mind is as vital as ever.


That’s true for earthly leaders like King Solomon - Prime Ministers and Presidents - and it’s true for spiritual leaders - bishops and priests and lay leaders - in the Church too.


Every day in life, the message from Solomon’s blessing is: seek not your own priorities and preferences, but the wisdom that comes from God, the Most High.


This week, what will a ‘wise and discerning mind’ look like in your life?


In our second reading we learn similarly how the life of prayer is not about lining up our own wish list but about opening ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit of God deep within us.


St Paul puts it like this:


26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.


At its heart prayer is the art of aligning ourselves to the will and purpose of God; something we only gain in true and deep silence, in dedicated time, paying attention to his Holy Spirit who shapes us and enlightens us.


So when you read scripture don’t impose your own terms on it, allow God’s terms to be imprinted on you.


And if you don’t regularly, pick up the Bible today, go back to the Bible today, for there is your treasury where you will find pearls of immeasurable value for your life.


You could do worse than to re-read today’s parables!


Read ahead to what next Sunday’s readings will be; start pondering them, extracting new insight from their ancient and enduring wisdom.


In our discipleship as Christians we need to rise above the chatter of the world, or rather, sink deep below to find the treasury, open it up, find the pearl of great price, the pearl of wisdom.


Lord, grant us wise and discerning minds,

may your Holy Spirit search our hearts

so that we may draw out of your treasury

wisdom ever old and ever new

to lead us to gracious, faithful and generous lives

as we learn and grow day by day.




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