17th. Sunday of Year (A)
(1 Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)
Our readings this week, my dear People of God, give us great cause for gratitude and hope. Just think of those words of St. Paul that you heard in the second reading:
Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those He predestined He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified.
God foreknew each one of you baptized Catholics here present and predestined you to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. How do we know that? Because God the Father called you to faith in Jesus and -- through the waters of baptism -- to become a member of His Body the Church, where you have been endowed by the Gift of God’s Holy Spirit and were washed clean of all your sins. Thus justified, you have also been glorified, for that outpouring of the Spirit of Christ into your soul is the beginning of a life-long process of glorification whereby the Spirit of Jesus will lead you ever further along the way of Jesus to the Father. Every time you receive Jesus in Holy Communion and open yourself up to Him in loving gratitude and prayer, that glory, which is the presence of His Spirit in you, will shine ever more brightly for the glory of the Father. You and I, each and every one of us, known and loved by God the Father before time in Jesus, are thus destined for eternal glory if, by the Spirit, we persevere faithfully in Jesus and His Church!
What degree of glory will be ours? That we do not know. But we do know that Mary, a girl from Nazareth, is now Queen of Heaven and of all the Angels, Principalities, and Powers. Our own degree of eternal glory will depend on God’s plan for us: notice that, dear People of God, egalitarianism is not on God’s agenda for us, His universal goodness is essential to it! It will also depend, of course, on our commitment to His Person and His will during our time on earth. Our glorification has already begun; that we know because we love Jesus Who is in heaven and we hope for, look forward to, His heavenly promises, with the result that although subject to temptation here on earth, we are not ruled by the earthly lusts of our flesh, nor do we allow ourselves to be dominated by that earthly pride which would drive us to seek earthly success, power, and prestige above all else. As yet, we cannot see the final result of our struggles, or the fullness of our on-going glorification, but St. John assures us that, when Christ is revealed in all His glory at the end of time, we too, who now are members of His Body and being led by His Spirit, shall be like Him and share with Him in His glory:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
What we have to do, therefore, throughout our life on earth, is to remain faithful to Jesus. That will most certainly demand effort at times, because we have to be tested, formed, and found worthy of God’s gifts and promises; but St. Paul reassures us, as you heard in that second reading:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.
That means, that in all the events of our life, no matter how unexpected, painful, and puzzling they may be, God our Father is at work: seeking to form us by His Spirit -- through those experiences -- in the likeness of His Son, our Saviour, so that we might ultimately be able to share His glory.
Surely, therefore, dear friends in Christ, we should, indeed, regard ourselves as having found a treasure, a pearl of great price, and we should carefully listen to and try to gratefully appreciate, Jesus’ parables in today’s Gospel reading:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
There, Jesus puts before us two individuals: one, an ordinary man and chance-finder, the other, a business man and professional-searcher; two very different people yet with the same characteristic attitude, for, when they find or track down something of supreme value they both want to make it their own at whatever cost, both of them willing and glad to give all they have to acquire that treasure, such a pearl! Now, all of us here are in a similar position, for Jesus is the treasure, the pearl beyond compare, revealed to us by the Father:
No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:44)
Why has the Father drawn us to Jesus?
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
The Father has called us to Jesus, since, without His saving grace we would be lost in, overpowered by, the initial attractions or the ultimate horror and desolation of sin:
Whoever does not abide in Me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6 NRSV)
Yes, Jesus is indeed the treasure, the pearl of great price, and each of us knows where He is to be found for our ever-greater delight and sustenance: in the life and sacraments of Mother Church, above all the Eucharist, and in her Scriptures. Only the Spirit of Jesus, given in fullness to Mother Church, can reveal to us -- in and through her worship and teaching -- the wonder of Jesus' saving life and love; only the Spirit of Jesus can enable us to share in the life of Jesus through the sacraments given us in Mother Church as sources of divine life and conduits of saving grace; only the Spirit can gradually fill and transfigure the thoughts of our minds and the aspirations of our hearts through the Scriptures which enshrine Mother Church’s most treasured remembrances of Him Who lived and died among men for their salvation.
One can indeed find treasures of wisdom and pearls of beauty in the various religions and traditions whereby men and women have sought and served God throughout human history. However, the one supreme treasure, the one pearl precious beyond all compare is Jesus of Nazareth -- God's supreme revelation of His very own Being of Love, in His only begotten Son-made-man, by His Gift of the Spirit of them both – Who is to be found uniquely in the Catholic and Christian Eucharist and in the Scriptures of the Universal Church which is His Body, and which is unfailingly sustained and infallibly guided by God’s Holy Spirit to lead mankind into all truth about eternal life and salvation.
The question now is: what are you doing about that treasure, what efforts are you willing to make to ensure that that pearl offered you may indeed become yours for all eternity?
Pope St. Gregory the Great tells a story which goes something like this: imagine someone going on, let us say, a journey on the Orient Express, travelling in luxury towards some wonderful destination, let us imagine, Venice. It is a long journey; deliberately so, because the trip is meant to embrace many places of great interest along the way: places of beauty such as mountain villages and places of curious attraction, such as ancient bazaars. Let us further imagine that the train stops at some of these places and, on one particular day, allows passengers to alight in order to visit a bazaar, a most famous one, during a two-hour stop by the Orient Express. One of the passengers goes from stall to stall, into one bar or boutique after another; he haggles here and there for bargains to take back, and in this delightful process forgets all about the ultimate destination for which he had set out on this long, expensive, journey! He forgets about Venice, the uniquely situated and wonderfully adorned city of history, culture and beauty, he forgets all about the friends awaiting him there, and loses himself in that smelly bazaar, distracted by little trinkets peddled by the hawkers there, and he misses, indeed forgets all about, the train. What a fool!
People of God, so many Christians, so many Church members, are like that foolish traveller, allowing themselves to be distracted from seeking the Lord by the pleasures and cares of life. Others there are, who once were true servants of the Lord, but who -- over time – disastrously allowed themselves to lose their early fervour. We saw this in the life of King Solomon -- beloved of God -- as we heard in the first reading:
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of Me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, You have made me, Your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. Give Your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge Your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of Yours?”
The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So, God said to him: “Because you have asked for understanding so that you may know what is right— I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.
Again, the Lord advised him:
If you live in My presence as your father David lived, sincerely and uprightly, doing just as I have commanded you, keeping My statutes and decrees, I will establish your throne of sovereignty over Israel forever.
However, King Solomon did not persevere in following the Lord’s statutes and commandments, becoming distracted from God’s ways by his successes, by the loves of his life, and by the praises lavished on him:
When Solomon was old his wives turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD his God, as the heart of his father David had been. The LORD, therefore, became angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, Who had appeared to him twice.
People of God, the gospel-treasure hidden in the Scriptures, the pearl at the centre of Church life, is Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, now become our glory and our Saviour, and Who will be our sublimely rich reward:
I rejoice in Your Word like one who discovers a great treasure. (Ps. 119:162 NLT)
The Father has called us to Jesus, to His Word, giving us His Holy Spirit to guide, support, and sustain us in our search for Him Who is our Light and our Salvation, Whose Truth and gift of Self is indeed our very Life. Let us not, therefore, be led astray by earthly pleasures or worldly worries; let us not be deceived by the earthly security promised by money or by popularity; neither let us be put off by the earthly anxieties or trials which are an unavoidable part of our Christian life and calling today. We are on a journey and our destination is eternal glory as children of God in Jesus; we must press on to the end, we must persevere in seeking Jesus, because that is the hall-mark of a true Catholic and Christian. Otherwise, if the Spirit is no longer able to move us in Jesus towards the Father, then we might become like those nominal Catholics mentioned in our third parable today, caught and become bad fish in the Church’s net:
The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, (and) which, when it was full, they drew to shore; (there) they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.
People of God, such is not the destiny before us who sincerely love Jesus; it is for us to persevere, seeking for and walking with Jesus, as the prophet Micah (6:8) advises:
You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Finally, dear Catholic and Christian people, notice something that is in every one of our Sunday readings and which it is absolutely essential for us to know and advert to today, for it totally distinguishes us as believers in Jesus from all those non-believers who proclaim so loudly and preach so fervently their pseudo-philosophical and politically-popular ethics, namely the existence, the importance, and indeed the ultimately decisive reality of divinely distinguished GOOD as distinct from BAD, of RIGHT from WRONG:
O Lord my God, give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. (NLT)
The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets, what is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. 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.