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Spirituality of the Readings
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year A
July 26, 2020
John Foley, SJ

Layers of Wisdom

There are so many different depths and dynamics of wisdom in the world. Here is a humorous example from a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine, published years ago but for some reason etched in my mind. Actually these are words of everyday common sense.

A terribly decrepit old man is sitting on the front porch when a very beautiful woman walks by on the sidewalk. His mouth is hanging open. Of course there was an old flea-bitten dog at the man’s feet, since George Booth was the cartoonist.

His equally haggard wife is at the door with the screen pushed open just far enough to take in the scene.

“Well whistle, you damn fool!” she says.

In the Gospel, Jesus also uses common sense wisdom.

In the Gospel, Jesus also uses common sense wisdom. If you went out into a field, he says, and saw a suspicious mound of earth and happened to dig it up and found there a hidden treasure, as much gold as you could ever want, would you immediately run out and tell everyone about it?

No, no, no. This is just the opposite of “Well whistle, you fool!” You would keep such a treasure a complete, deep, dark, fail-safe secret and you would re-bury the treasure, disguising it so no one could know that anything was there. You would go sell your goods and buy the field. Then the treasure would be yours and you could tell everyone. “Look what I happened to find on my new property!”

It makes sense.

If you agree, then here is a question for you. Wouldn’t you do as much for the kingdom of heaven? This is what Jesus asks. Well, hmmmm. Maybe that is worth some consideration.

As we might remember, King Solomon was noted far and wide for his wise decisions (First Reading). It is said that the Queen of Sheba traveled to him to get advice. How did he get so wise? Did he just inherit it from his father, David? No, he prayed touchingly to God for a certain kind of wisdom. He did not ask how to increase his fortune or to be well-known or to have power. He asked God for an understanding heart. He would use it to rule God’s people well. God was moved by this request and gave Solomon great practical wisdom so he could be on the side of the regular folks. How many leaders today even listen to the people, let alone listen with understanding?

Perhaps the deepest wisdom this Sunday is in the Second Reading. You or I have undoubtedly quoted its words, not remembering where they came from: “All things work for the good for those who love God.” The older I get, the more true this seems. Even when darkness and loss become our daily bread, still the love of God labors incessantly to bring out larger love, larger forgiveness, more acceptance of life, and love even within pain. This is food we all need every day.

Sunday, if we find a way of attending Mass, or even if not, we can pay attention to such a variety of wisdom. The important thing is not to just sit there and gape. Do what every other human being in the world would do if they were given a glimpse into the kingdom.

What is it?

  “Whistle, you fool”?

Not really. Maybe just listen with an understanding heart.

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go