Three friends were stuck on a desert island for a long time, until one day they found a magic lamp. They rubbed the lamp hard, and out popped a genie. The genie said that he could only give three wishes: so, since there were three men, each man would get one wish. The first one went: “I hate it here. It is too hot and boring. I want to go home!” And “whoosh!” off home he went. Then the second one went: “I miss my family. I want to go home, too!” “Okay,” replied the genie. And “whoosh!” off home he went. The third one started crying, and he went: “I wish my friends were back here!”
If you had just one, but powerful, life-changing wish – here and now, not on a desert island – what would it be? I tried to compile a list of the most common possible answers, but I found that exercise rather pointless; such a list would be either unbearably long or embarrassingly clichéd. Moreover, it would be a purely theoretical mental exercise as it’s highly unlikely that any one of you would ever have such an opportunity. Such wonderful opportunities belong to the world of fairy tales. Today’s readings seem to belong to that world: young King Solomon can choose one special powerful gift for his forthcoming reign, and in the gospel one man finds treasure in a field and another finds the most precious pearl. In real life it doesn’t work like that; we tend to have many wishes and only a few of them – if any – come true; we face many choices and sometimes each one is worse than the next. Good luck rarely comes our way.
Yet today’s readings give not unrealistic advice about what to do when good luck does strike. They are about identifying priorities and making right decisions. All three characters have made some effort, setting out their main priorities. It’s wise and just governance for King Solomon, treasure for one man and the finest pearl for another in Jesus’ parables. Their priorities determine their decisions and actions. Rather than just going with the flow of life, they aim for a particular target and do whatever is needed to hit that. So let me be a bit nosy and ask you: what’s the most important thing in your life? Just one thing, not a list of them. Consider your answer carefully and well. (pause) Is that your main priority, or is it your wish? The difference between these two is distinct. The former drives us to active involvement, the latter makes us idly expect others to deliver. Life is about taking little chances, turning disadvantages into advantages, overcoming adversities and learning from failures. Mr Philip Clarke, the recently sacked boss of Tesco, made it into the biggest supermarket chain in the UK. His career had started 38 years earlier at his local Tesco where he was stacking shelves. A chance was taken and built upon.
Sometimes we can envy others their seemingly better luck and apparently carefree lives, while we struggle on and sail against the wind day by day. Undoubtedly creating the right environment can offer more equal chances to everyone. But at the end of the day, the responsibility for what to do with the gift of one’s life lies with each and every human being. The buck stops there. There was a man called Jimmy; every night Jimmy earnestly prayed that he would win the lottery. Days passed, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, but there was no win for Jimmy. One night he complained that his prayers hadn’t been heard. All of a sudden he clearly heard a voice saying: ‘For God’s sake, Jimmy, give me a chance. Buy a ticket!’