Sunday, July 27, 2014
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13:44-52 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.46When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.48When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.49Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
51“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.”52 And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”
“The Kingdom of God is like….” The title of our Lectio today could sum up the content of Matthew chapter 13 that we have read these three past Sundays. In fact, it can be considered a closed section centered on the single subject of Jesus’ message expressed in parables. At the same time, it is also a “connecting” passage between chapter 12, which reflected the climate of opposition and rejection surrounding Jesus, and chapter 14, a new account of his activity, a mixture of preaching and signs. The two first parables we read today are very short and deal not only with the Kingdom as such, but also with the attitudes of those who discover it, and are invited or called to enter and take part in it. In the midst of the confusion and instability in which Jesus preached, feeling a calling to stand on such a firm foundation as God’s mercy and forgiveness was a real treasure, a pearl of great value, which justified selling everything one might have in order to possess it. There is no point in posing idle questions about the lawfulness of hiding the treasure back in the field. The image is what it is, and must be taken on its face value. It conveys the message Jesus would express in a direct way when he answered the question about gaining eternal life or entering the Kingdom: “Go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). In a sense, we could say that the parable goes even further than making an investment to possess the treasure or the pearl, symbols of the Kingdom. The truth is quite different and deeper; it is the Kingdom that possesses us. Perhaps that is what Paul meant when he compared the riches of faith and justification in Christ with all the things others would consider desirable: “For his [Jesus’] sake, I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (see Philippians 3:7-11). The following and last parable has, as in some other cases, an eschatological character. Jesus is not speaking to his disciples as a spiritual master, inviting them to opt for an ascetic path to follow in order to become illuminated or perfect. His message entails something more vital. What is at stake is salvation, the meaning of life. As in the parable of the weeds, there is a dual dimension in the approach to time. While this world lasts, both weeds and wheat, fish of every kind, the wicked and the righteous, will have to coexist until the moment of judgement arrives. But in the end of time, no life will go without being subjected to God’s final evaluation. Understanding this, knowing how to distinguish between what is valid in the old (tradition) and the new (Jesus’ teaching and signs), is no doubt the sign of wise disciples or scribes. If their response is a direct, bold “Yes,” it is not because they are wiser than the Pharisees or the teachers of the Law, but because, even if they are humble, it is to them that the Father has revealed the secrets of the Kingdom (see Matthew 11:25-26).
Rationally speaking, accepting the Kingdom in the circumstances of the first Church was something as risky as burying again a treasure one has just found, selling everything to buy the field, and crossing one’s fingers in the hope of finding it again. If one takes the Christian message earnestly, and decides to follow the Messiah other believers have transmitted, that option implies facing a number of risks which ranged from social (and in Israel, religious) discrimination, rejection by friends and perhaps relatives … down to persecution, prison or even death. For us who live in the free world, where religious freedom is guaranteed, becoming or remaining a Christian does not mean anything as serious as that. Audacity and courage are excluded from our religious vocabulary. It is always prudence and rationality that plays the most important role when making decisions. Very rarely do we have to take the rough path of “Christian values” as opposed to rational and socially correct standards. Is it just because we live in a “Christian society”? Or, let us be boldly sincere, simply because we have to such a great extent “tamed” the Gospel, that it will too often keep us on the safe side of this world? Do we find in our daily lives any link between Christian faith and risk or danger? We need, no doubt, real wisdom, the wisdom for which Solomon prayed. And even so, his wisdom did not go over the limits of justice and fidelity to the Covenant, rational and prudent. “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners…” (see Luke 6:32-36) That would be human wisdom, but God’s wisdom (in fact, God’s mercy) goes much further than that.
Let us pray for ourselves: that we may discover the value of the treasures of the Gospel and be ready to take the risk of following Jesus without restraint, against all obstacles and without fear. Pray for those who have left their family, their possessions or their country to follow Jesus in missionary work: that they may experience the support of other Christians, and the spiritual comfort of Jesus’ company.
Two passages can shed some additional light on the image of the “treasure.” Read Luke 12:31-34, speaking of the “treasure in heaven,” the fruit of generosity and selflessness; and also, Luke 2: 19 and 51, where Mary keeps in her heart, as if they were a “treasure,” the riches of the words and signs in which God manifests his saving designs.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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