One of my favorite scenes in cinema is towards the end of the Steve Martin movie The Jerk. As Steve Martin’s character is leaving his home and relationship after a fight, he goes on and on about how he doesn’t need any of the things that he’s accumulated over the course of the movie… except this ashtray… and this paddlegame… and the remote control… and these matches… and this lamp… and by the end of the scene he’s trying to carry all of these awkward objects out of his home while talking about how he doesn’t need anything else to live a happy life… except this chair too… and on and on it goes. The readings this week focus us on asking a question quite similar to the one The Jerk asks us to consider: What is it that you need in your life? What are your priorities?
Solomon’s dream experience in the first reading is something quite extraordinary – God appears to him and tells him to ask for anything he likes. Solomon looks at his life and priorities, and while he could ask for any number of other things which would benefit him, he asks instead for the wisdom to rule his people well. God being pleased with this request acknowledges that he will receive what he asked for, and (if you go a verse or two beyond where the reading stops) God grants him everything else he could have asked for as well. Likewise in the Gospel, Christ speaks of two people who essentially give up everything they have to go and acquire something of even greater value. Everything else they own, everything they have spent their lives accumulating is sold off in an instant to have what they need to get something better.
The question put before us then is why these people made these choices, and I think the answer is frankly that they were acting based on what they thought was most important in their lives. Solomon wanted to be a good king, and the merchants in the parables wanted to possess what they considered to be of great value. We often do the same! We act in line with what we think to be the most important at the time: we spend our money, our time, our energy on those things we value. But something that it is useful and necessary to do (in both a spiritual and secular way!) is to take time to reflect on what our priorities actually are and to realign them from time to time.
It is also important to note that, while each of these characters seem to come out of their ‘deal’ better off than where they started, there is also a kind of cost or a ‘giving up’ of something in order to ‘purchase’ what is most valuable to them. Solomon in asking for wisdom cannot at the same time ask for a long life or wealth; the people in Jesus’ parables sell every possession they have to buy the thing that matters most to them. We know that when we prioritize something, very likely we will have to give up something else for it, whether it’s declining one invitation to accept a different one, or use of financial resources, or whatever the situation requires. Again, it throws into perspective how important it is for us to have those priorities straight! If we are going to spend our time and effort on what we consider important, we should make sure we are spending our treasure wisely!
Let us take some time this week to make discerning our priorities a priority! Examine your life in the past week, month, year, etc. and look at where you have ‘spent’ yourself, discern what your priorities seem to be, and if that is what you really want them to be. Consider as well where God and time spent consciously with God sits in this hierarchy – has room been made for this? Monday July 31 is the Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, and in the course of his life Ignatius came up with a prayer tool (below!) which can be a great help in this prayer and discernment of our priorities! Finally, make an action plan for yourself – Set a goal that is specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound. And when you find that pearl of great price do not be afraid to sell what you must to buy it!
Peace and All Good,