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Spirituality of the Readings
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year A
July 30, 2023
John Foley, SJ
Layers of Wisdom

Look at the many different depths and types of wisdom in the world, and thus in this Sunday’s Mass.

Here is an everyday example. I remember a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine years ago that etched itself in my mind. A terribly decrepit old man is sitting on his front porch while a very beautiful woman walks by on the sidewalk. His mouth is hanging open. George Booth was the cartoonist, so of course there is one of his terrible flea-bitten dogs at the man’s feet.

In the Gospel, Jesus also uses common sense wisdom.

His equally haggard wife is at the door, with the screen pushed open just far enough to take in this scene. She says to him, “Well whistle, you damn fool!”

I suppose I had expected her to load guilt on the leering old man in his act of leering. Instead, Booth gave us what are really just words of everyday common sense. “Don’t just sit there: at least do what every other heterosexual male in the world would do.” So. Wisdom comes in many flavors, and there is a kind of common, real acumen in the old lady’s words.

Now, let us examine Sunday’s readings for different types of wisdom.

In the Gospel, Jesus uses the common sense kind. He says, if you went out into a field 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 go and tell everyone about it?

Of course not. It is like “Well whistle, you damn fool!” Common sense says you would re-bury the treasure, disguising it perfectly, and then go sell all your property and come buy the field. Now the treasure is yours. “Look at what I found on my new property!”

It is an excellent example. It makes sense. Well then, Jesus asks, wouldn’t you do as much for the kingdom of heaven? He has suddenly deepened the wisdom!

And in the First Reading, Solomon uses another flavor of wisdom. He asks not for selfish gifts, but for an understanding heart so that he can rule God’s people. This request moves God. He gives Solomon great practical wisdom in order that he might succeed as King. And other gifts as well.

Perhaps the deepest wisdom this Sunday is in the Second Reading. You and I have undoubtedly quoted these words, not remembering where they came from, “All things work for the good [of] 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 greater forgiveness, larger love, more acceptance of life and love, even within pain. This is the wisest understanding that can be.

Sunday at Mass we can pay attention to any of these varieties of wisdom. The important thing is not to just sit there and gape, but to do what every other human being in the world would do if given a glimpse into the kingdom.

Listen to God’s love, you sleepyhead!

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 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