17th. SUNDAY OF YEAR (A)
(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, to be ‘treasured’ in our hearts; He also compared it to ‘a pearl of great price’, to be delighted in, and joyfully shown to others: 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, my God, how beautiful You are!’
Let us look a little closer at them both.
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.
Did you, on hearing those words, experience any qualms of modern ‘conscience’ which anti-religious people so readily try to drum up against the Gospel of God? ‘He should not have bought that field after hiding the treasure!’ they say with most righteous indignation.
We, however, know for certain that though Our Lord may occasionally choose to shock us, He is always deeply -- so to speak -- right, and has much to teach us if we will but listen so as to learn and love.
Those ‘righteous’ accusers or complainants are not interested in the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words; like the Pharisees of old they seize on the literal words and, ignoring their meaning, press on to make a ‘popular’, usually trite, criticism, expressing not truth but fear and antagonism.
This ‘treasure’ in the parable -- the treasure of the salvation in the Kingdom of God -- found buried in a field was and is of such absolute, all-embracing importance, that it could never -- under whatever circumstances -- be passed over or ignored. Salvation is a matter of life and death, indeed, eternal life and death for each and every one of us; it is that without which our present life can have no fulfilment, it is the sublime purpose for Jesus’ coming to suffer and die among us for us.
Think back to the boy Jesus of Nazareth on pilgrimage in Jerusalem: think of Him after His reception in the Temple having just come-of-age as a Jewish young man and then staying behind in this new adult world of His, watching the learned rabbis and holy priests walking about in the Temple known as a ‘wonder of the world’. Continue thinking of that same newly-come-of-age Jesus of Nazareth -- Who later as a mature man would say to a Samaritan woman ‘we Jews worship what we know’ – think of Him, I say, as a boy/cum/man now hearing, speaking to, even in some measure communing with, a deeply learned yet humble doctor of the Law there in the Temple or with a priest who found his delight in leading the Temple worship and singing the Psalms used there. Think of that Jesus Who – in the depths of His being, knew God as His Father – think of Him now delighting to hear and speak with those thus learned and devout in that majestic Temple, delighting with them in Israel’s God, and being thrilled beyond all previous measure at knowing Him as His very own Father and now being able to speak of Him at a level He had never been able to share as man before!!
So great was His delight in God, in His heavenly Father -- His heart’s deepest treasure and pearl without price -- that He forgot all about Mary and Joseph, forgot all about returning home with the caravan, among relatives, friends and acquaintances! Indeed, He forgot all about Himself, save as Son of His heavenly Father: for example, what did He eat, where did He sleep for those three days? Out of sheer joy He -- as it were –'gave up all He had to own 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 those things cannot rival the sheer pleasure, joy, admiration and delight, this beautiful pearl affords him. Therefore, Jesus tells us that he buys it, he pays for it in open bargaining. In this parable, the pearl 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, HE DOESN’T WANT TO MISS IT, even though it cost him so very much. Here there is no implicit warning about the danger of not buying this pearl, the loss, that is of eternal salvation; here, there is simply the fact -- the undeniable truth -- of the BEAUTY, the transcendent beauty of this ONE Pearl.
Dear People of God, those two minuscule parables (70 odd 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, if one wanted to more fully describe such a treasure and such a pearl, one would surely agree with St. John saying (21:25):
I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would have to be written.
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 Him so that He, Jesus, might save them for eternal life. It is not our job as Catholic believers and Church members 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 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, possible glory, and inevitable responsibility.
Once again, dear People of God, notice Jesus’ third parable today:
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. Bad fish are 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 intended to become good fish, which the Kingdom as such seeks to nourish, help, and encourage that they might fulfil their own original promise and subsequent calling by the Father. That some, perhaps many fail, is a cause of sorrow rather than surprise; did not Jesus expressly say, ‘Will the Son of Man find faith when He comes?’ It is, however, always a reason for prayers: of intercession for sinners, for the blessing of Mother Church, and of ‘compassion’ for the God and Father Who is wonderful enough 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 now 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 prepare them by the Spirit for a heavenly life, in Jesus, in the family of the Father of all.
However, let us 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 all salvation, opening our mouths and our hearts wide to welcome and embrace the 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.