Sunday, July 30, 2023
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
This weekend’s first Scripture reading tells of God appearing to King Solomon in a dream and inviting Solomon to “ask something of me and I will give it to you.” So Solomon asks for an understanding heart so that he might judge God’s people and distinguish right from wrong. If God offered you that opportunity, what would you ask for?
In a 2007 survey, millennials (at that time in their 20s) were asked a similar Solomon-like question – what their goals and aims for life were. Seventy-six percent said their number one goal was to become rich. Fifty percent of them said they also wanted to become famous. More than a decade later, those same millennials reported that becoming rich was still the primary goal for 76 percent of them, though fame had slipped a bit lower on their list.
In 1938, Harvard University began a study of adult development. The study began with 724 individuals, one third of whom were sophomores at Harvard University and came from wealthy and advantaged families. Two thirds of the group were 14-year-olds from among some of Boston’s most troubled families and disadvantaged neighborhoods, all of whom had been able to avoid the delinquency that troubled many of their peers.
The study has continued to follow these individuals to this day, 85 years later. Participants are asked to fill out extensive questionnaires every two years and to meet face to face every five years for a longer and in-depth conversation about their lives. What were their hopes and dreams, their struggles and disappointments, their joys and their sadness — in short, pretty much everything about them as their lives were unfolding. The study continues now with more than 1,300 of their offspring participating, as well. The conclusions and observations have been published in a book entitled “The Good Life” by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, current directors of the study and professors at Harvard University.
As one might expect, the reported life satisfaction has varied. As the long-term participants looked back on their lives, many reported being content and satisfied with their lives. They felt happy with how their lives turned out. While there were many struggles and difficulties, they felt it was all worth it. There was a sense of peace and gratitude. In short, they felt they had lived a good life.
Others, on the other hand, felt dissatisfied with how life had turned out for them, a sense of life not having been what they had expected or hoped for. There was a sense of disappointment, a feeling of having failed to live a life about which they could feel good.
According to this long-term study, the one defining quality that has differentiated the first group from the second has been the quality of their relationships. “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.” Everything else took a back seat. One hopes that the 76 percent of millennials who said their primary goal was to become rich might discover in their lifetime the overarching value of relationships, for relationships never happen without much attention.
This week’s Gospel begins with two parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure a man finds buried in a field, then sells all that he has and buys that field. The kingdom of heaven is also like a merchant in search of fine pearls, and having found one, he sells all that he has and buys that pearl.
Always the kingdom of heaven is not a place, is not where we go when we die. Rather it is the reign of God already present, even as it unfolds into its fullness. It is God’s presence moving in our lives as we live them day by day. Then, one day it is discovered and known, unexpectedly buried amid the treasure of loving relationships for which we have sacrificed and struggled and tended all our lives, what we may have never realized until we have found those relationships to be the very presence of God for us.
Or, like the merchant in search of fine pearls, that presence of God’s goodness may be what we have always suspected as most important, always hoping to find it, never thinking we have, until at some point we discover it has become ours without our even knowing it — because we have given all to our relationships with family and friends and neighbors and co-workers, to the world in all its needs.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, once observed, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
How would you answer the question God put to Solomon in his dream?
Does the Harvard study reflect your experience of life?