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Spirituality of the Readings
Seventeenth Sunday
in Ordinary Time A
July 30, 2017
John Foley, SJ

Layers of Wisdom

A terribly decrepit old man is sitting on the front porch. A very beautiful woman walks by on the sidewalk and 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.

The man’s 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.

Actually these are words of everyday common sense.

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 you happened to dig it up and you found there a hidden treasure, as much gold as you could ever want, would you immediately run out and tell everyone where to find it?

Do what every other human being in the world would do if they were given a glimpse into the kingdom.
No, no, no. This is just the opposite of “Well whistle, you damn fool!” You would keep the treasure a complete, deep, dark, fail-safe secret, 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. Now the treasure is yours and you can tell everybody. “Look what I happened to find on my new property!” It makes sense.

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

Where else can you look for such wisdom? As we might remember, King Solomon was noted far and wide for his wise decisions. 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 to God for a beautiful kind of wisdom (First Reading). 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 is moved by this request and gives Solomon great practical wisdom so he can 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 the words, not remembering where they came from, “All things work for 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, greater forgiveness, more acceptance of life and love, even within pain. This is food we all need every day.

Sunday at Mass we can pay attention to these varieties 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.


“Whistle, you damn fool”?


Listen with an understanding heart.

John Foley, SJ

You are invited to email a note to the author of this reflection:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

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