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Friday, 25 July 2014

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2014


(1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)

What beautiful readings we have heard today!!  Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of heaven as a treasure … something we normally ‘treasure’ in our hearts, to ourselves; He also compared it to ‘a pearl of great price’, something one might delight to display to, and share with, others.  Both these attitudes can, without difficulty, be given perfectly Christian expression: a treasure leading one to exclaim, ‘thanks be to God’ in personal prayer; and a pearl of great price leading me now, for example, to delight in displaying before you and for you: ‘Such is our Catholic faith, how beautiful it is!’
The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a man finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Forgive, or at least understand me, People of God, for I changed the word -- the modern, politically correct, word -- ‘person’ into the original ‘man’, which they dare not print even though they could not avoid a few words later saying ‘he has’.   Political prudence is such a craven attitude at times and can lead to somewhat ludicrous formulations!
Now let us turn away from tortuous, modern, secular ideas of charity and equality and look at the simple beauty of the Gospel of Jesus.
Did you -- on hearing those words of Jesus I have just quoted -- experience any ever-so-slight qualms of modern conscience which anti-religious people can so easily drum up against the Gospel of God?  ‘He should not have bought that field after hiding the treasure!’ they can say with most righteous indignation.   Remember last week’s weeds growing tall among the wheat and crying out, ‘Look at me how tall I have grown and how beautiful I am, just like, indeed, even better than, the wheat’?
We, however, know better than that; we can learn from our Blessed Lord always. For, though He may occasionally choose to shock us, we know for certain that He is always -- so to speak -- deeply right, and has much to teach us if we will but listen so as to learn and love.
This ‘treasure’ of the Kingdom found buried in a field is of such absolute, total, all-embracing, and indeed all-comparison-excluding importance, that it can never – under whatever circumstances – be set aside or passed over.  It is a matter of life and death, indeed, eternal life and death.  Think of the boy Jesus after His coming of age as a Jewish young man staying behind in the Temple speaking with those who knew God deeply (‘we worship what we know’), and communing with, delighting in, His own Father at a level He had never known as man before (‘never call anyone on earth you father, for you have only one Father, and He is in heaven’).  He forgot all about Mary and Joseph, about returning home with the caravan to Nazareth among relatives, friends and acquaintances!  Indeed, He forgot all about Himself: what did He eat, where did He stay?  On finding Him in the Temple Mary dutifully expressed her concern as being primarily for Joseph, ‘Your father and I were worried’; but that was inappropriate at that moment, provoking, as it did, Jesus’ immediate response: ‘Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business, in My Father’s house?’
Dear People of God, Jesus’ deliberate ignoring of modern ‘humanistic, science-of-ethics’ morality, just as He ignored so often the Pharisaic morality of His accusers, was demanded by the supremely transcendent importance of His teaching:
The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a man finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Jesus then went on to address another parable to His audience highlighting a further, most important, aspect of the Kingdom of heaven:
Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all he has and buys it.
Here we have a man searching for what is beautiful.   It is true that he sells all that he has to buy it, but he is able to pay for it: he divests himself of what is good, helpful, useful, and to a certain extent necessary, for all these things cannot rival the sheer pleasure, joy, admiration and delight, this beautiful pearl affords him.  Therefore Jesus tells us that he buys it, pays for it in open bargaining: it is not something of transcendent, life or death, importance that absolutely cannot be missed, it is rather something of such great beauty that the buyer wants to possess it even though it be at very great cost.
These two minuscule parables (61 English words in total) say absolutely all that needs to, must, be said about the Kingdom of God which Jesus came to bring!  Further words can add nothing to them:  the Kingdom is life, divine in its nature and in its beauty; and one can surely say with St. John (21:25):
I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would (have to) be written to unfold all that they contain and promise.
No one can tamper with the Gospel of Jesus because it is Jesus as Word, just as the Eucharist is Jesus as Sacrament.  Jesus made abundantly clear that no one could come to Him unless the Father had drawn them thereto; and that the Father gives, sends, followers to Jesus so that He, Jesus, might save them for eternal life: it is not our job to persuade people to come to a Jesus we concoct up for them.  We all -- priests and people -- are, in our degree, Catholic witnesses to Jesus, and as such we have to offer all who seek their Saviour the Jesus revealed in the Scriptures as understood by Mother Church; in other words, we have to be authentic, Spirit-guided, witnesses to Jesus, not purveyors of popular or personal human persuasions concerning Him.   Such is the Jesus for Whom the Father Himself calls disciples that they might learn to know, love and serve Him in sincere faith; and such disciples the Father Himself loves and will visit because of their commitment to and love for His only begotten and most-beloved Son.  How we -- practicing and proclaiming Catholics -- can fittingly respond, and bear authentic witness, to such love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is our foremost vocation, privilege, responsibility, and glory.
Once again, dear People of God, notice Jesus’ third parable today, repeating what He said last Sunday but with even greater clarity and emphasis:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full … the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Such a net is expected to collect fish of every kind, good and bad.  Such bad fish are -- I say -- to be expected but not, ultimately, tolerated; because they, at the end of the age, will be separated and thrown into the fiery furnace.   For the present, however, it is no disgrace that the Kingdom of Heaven – like a good fishing net – collects bad fish as well as good, because the Kingdom only collects fish that are candidates originally called to become good fish, which the Kingdom as such nourishes, helps, and encourages that they might fulfil their calling (from the Father) and their own original promise.   That some, perhaps many (Will the Son of Man find faith when He comes?) fail, is a cause of sorrow rather than surprise; it is always a reason for prayers: of intercession for sinners, for the blessing of Mother Church, and of sorrow and ‘compassion’ for the God Who is great enough to be able to ‘suffer’ on such occasions.
Let us now give our attention to what is most attractive in our two main parables today, where the Kingdom of Heaven is portrayed as a supreme, and incomparable treasure, and also as a pearl of outstanding beauty and great price.   Why the Kingdom is such a unique treasure and so beautiful a pearl today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans explains; for there, Paul tells us what – so to speak – ‘goes on’ in the Kingdom of Heaven in the course of its earthly preparation:
All things work for good for those who love God, who are called (by the Father) according to His purpose.  For those He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son He also called; and those He called He also justified, and those He justified He also glorified.
You, dear People of God here at Mass for our Sunday celebration, have been called, drawn, by the Father to Jesus, and you are thereby in the Kingdom of heaven’s preparatory stage.  You are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son; and in the Kingdom God is justifying you, beautifying you, so that you might be enabled to put on, be endowed with, some share -- an ever greater share -- in the glory of Jesus as a member of His glorified Body.  
Notice, People of God, that it is at this precise point that we can appreciate the real nature of the horror, the tragedy, of sin among Catholic and Christian figures: as apparently representative members, called-by-the-Father members, of the Kingdom, they are actually refusing, rejecting, repulsing and distorting His desires and efforts to beautify them.
However, forget that necessary aside about the tragedy of sin among the chosen, and let us turn back in gratitude and admiration, love and humility, to the God of great goodness and the Lord of salvation, opening our mouths and our hearts wide to welcome and embrace their Spirit of beautiful hope.
Lord, let Your kindness comfort me according to Your promise, let Your compassion come to me that I may live; for Your law gives understanding to the simple, and is my (great) delight.