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Seventeenth Sunday of the Year

Wisdom Both Ancient and New

When we try to find out about the world around us, when we try to think about the meaning of human life, when we seek answers to the questions human beings have been asking for as long as there have been words to ask, we come across a strange paradox: in trying to discover something new, we can only discover something old.

I mean that we can either come up with something which is an invention of our own and to that extent something false, a mere fabrication; or we can try to discover how things really are, when what we discover many be new to us, but not new absolutely speaking. We are simply finding out what God laid down at the beginning of time.

Solomon knew that if he wanted wisdom, the wisdom needed to govern God's people properly, he couldn't invent it, make it up as he went along. He had to receive it, from the only source able to give it to him, that is, from God himself. Only the Ancient of Days possesses the kind of wisdom Solomon seeks, wisdom as old as the hills and older.

We are, I suppose, used to thinking of God as old. There is good sense to that: God has always existed. But it is equally true that God is always new. We live our lives bit by bit, one part passing away just as another comes to be. We can only get older and older.

God, on the other hand, is so alive that he has all his life all at once. God is no older now than he was in the time of Solomon or the time of Adam. So God's wisdom can beat the paradox and be both old and new at the same time, both original and true.

That's why the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a treasure or a pearl of great price. We can search all our lives, work diligently, but without God's help all we make and do will be only either original or true. Only when we come across God's truth will we find something really new and fresh and also really foundational, something which shows the wisdom of the ages. God's wisdom is precious because without it we only have something tired and dusty or something novel and baseless.

This wisdom isn't something we can make on our own or even deserve by our hard work. We receive it, simply because by God's love we have the great fortune to do so. The treasure, the pearl, comes without any merit of our own. We come upon it because God in his goodness shares his wisdom with us. As the parable of the dragnet shows, it's not even quite right to say that we come upon it, as one might come across a treasure or a pearl.

The Kingdom of Heaven itself draws us in. Of course, once we have God's gifts, they're truly ours. The treasure belongs to the man who owns the field. The pearl belongs to the man who buys it.

Nevertheless, though these gifts of God are free and come to us without our working for them and without our deserving them, they're not cheap. Indeed, when you find the treasure, you have to sell everything you have to buy it. When you come across this great treasure, this ancient newness, you have to give up on all the tired dustiness and all the vain inventions in your life, you have to give them all up for the one thing that will give you true joy.

We all need to accept the life that God gives, this newness which will make us the people we were always meant to be since the foundation of the world. Then our lives will be fresh and original and the ones sorting the contents of the dragnet will not find us dead and rotting, no use to anyone.

God offers us his wisdom, the wisdom of the ages, but something genuinely startling and fresh and new. As good scribes of the Kingdom, we have to learn to take out of our treasure chests things which are both new and old.

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