Readings: 1 Kings 3. 5-12; Romans 8. 26-end; Matthew 13. 31-33, 44-52
Theme: What’s it all about?
What’s the point of it?
The question of the meaning of life has become a central one in modern times. In previous ages, life was viewed less as a project and more as a given, something already set out for us by our background, social class or gender. This has all changed. Life, for many at least, is now a personal project that develops according to personally set aims and objectives towards a goal which we set for ourselves. There is much good in that. When being a woman simply meant having children and looking after the home the aspirations of half of the population for self-realization, to flourish, were clearly limited to that, albeit wonderful for those who choose it, vocation. If your path in life is already set out for you then there is little point in plotting your own trajectory.
However, as well as the good that has clearly come from this change in perspective on the purpose of life, it has also come with some real challenges. If I have to invent myself then each of us has to be creative, to be, what we might call, a ‘life artist’, to paint our own picture and to set our own goals. The canvas of our lives, today, is meant to be blank, and we are each given the responsibility of painting whatever picture we choose with our own lives. This clearly brings with it a considerable degree of pressure, as inventing oneself is not an easy task.
The readings for today present us with a different perspective on the meaning of life. Rather than a blank canvas, life is viewed as a vocation, as a call from God to be someone and to do something. The first reading from 1 Kings tells of the royal transition from King David to King Solomon. After a rather grubby succession story from David, involving fratricide, political manipulation and general skulduggery, Solomon takes the throne from his father and asks God for wisdom to ‘discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?’ This he duly receives and God blesses him with great wisdom. He rules the people, builds a temple to worship God in Jerusalem in which the Ark of the Covenant will be housed, and completes the building of a royal palace, very much fit for a king, in thirteen years. His destiny is given to him by God, in Jewish understanding, and he follows this call to be the king of the people and to govern them with justice, discernment and wisdom, so that all the people can flourish. Solomon arrives at this vocation through a rather murky path of exterminating his rivals, including his half-brother and attempted usurper of the throne, Adonijah. It is a very human story, all too human one might say, which reminds us that God calls us through the twists and turns of our lives and often in very unexpected ways.
The meaning of life for Solomon was clear. It was set out by God and meant that he was to rule the people, to build the first temple in Jerusalem and to furnish himself with a royal palace that would establish his position amongst the surrounding nations and amass a great fortune through trade. Despite the fact that Solomon’s vocation story is rather grandiose it bears the characteristics of the biblical answer to the question of the meaning of life. Life, human life, is a pilgrimage towards to the land which God has chosen for us. It is a journey to follow the Lord wherever God calls us to be and to do whatever God calls us to do.
The same idea is brought out in our Gospel for today. In the five short parables of what the Kingdom of God is meant to be like, we are presented with the fact that the Kingdom is a reality that each person is meant to seek. It is a hidden treasure that we are to sell all for, so that we can buy the field in which it is buried. It is ‘like a merchant in search of fine pearls’ and a ‘net thrown into the sea which catches fish of every kind’. Each of these different analogies are meant to convey to us the fact that God calls us to seek the Kingdom. This search is the purpose of life. It is not our invention. We are not called to create a goal for ourselves which is meant to give our lives meaning, but rather we are called to seek first the Kingdom of God and to do what we need to do to find it.
But, if you notice at the end of the passage from the Gospel of St Matthew, there are those highly arresting lines in which Jesus asks the listener, the scribes in the case of this passage, whether they have understood the parables: ‘Have you understood all this?’ They all reply that they have and then Jesus goes on to say, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of the household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ Like King Solomon, we are called to build the temple for the Lord and to establish the city, to follow the code of conduct for what it is to follow the Lord. But we are also called to do this in our own ways. God calls us, like he called King Solomon, to realize a project, the building of the temple and the establishment of the nation in his case. Yet, how we are to do this is very much left to our own devices.
This combination of being called to realize the Kingdom, but being left free as to how we are to do this is the biblical answer to the question, what’s the point of it? The point of it is to follow the Lord, to seek first his Kingdom and so to build a life that is the result of a vocation lived in freedom. We might even say, that for the Bible, the meaning of life is a ‘treasure hunt’. It is the search for the ‘pearl of great price’ and ‘the treasure in the field’; the search for something which is not of our making. But at the same time it is something which the ‘woman needs to take and to mix with the flour until all of it is leavened’. It is also a ‘mustard seed’ which needs to be allowed ‘to grow into a tree’. In other words, the meaning of life is our freedom exercised according to its God-given orientation towards the building of the Kingdom of God.
So, what’s it all about?
It is about the Kingdom of God, and each and everyone one of us is called to build it, ‘so that the birds of the air can come and make nests in its branches’. This is our ‘life project’. It is our meaning and the source of our hope and joy that in building this Kingdom, we may truly find the treasure which we have been seeking all of our lives.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.