The Treasure of Heaven
Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (A). Fr John Farrell invites us to accept God’s acceptance of us.
‘The Word of God is alive and active’ (Hebrews 4:12). Listening to the Lord in today’s gospel, we hear Jesus teaching his disciples in parables about the presence and dynamism of the kingdom of God. Listening to our living Lord speaking to us here and now we are being called afresh to be a community of disciples in the present out-working of the kingdom in our given time and in our situation and location.
There are two twin parables to start with. Someone just happens to find treasure in a field by chance and a merchant finally finds the pearl of great value he has been searching for over many years. What comes across firstly in both cases is joy. They are surprised by joy. We too are to be constantly surprised by the joy of believing, by the joy of belonging: by the joy of finding Jesus, or rather finding once again that Jesus has found us.
It is often said that Jesus accepts us as we are. That is true. But our acceptance of his acceptance of us involves change or it is not a genuine acceptance of his acceptance. And this is not something done out of duty but gracefully and joyfully.
It is by joy that these two characters are motivated to re-order their priorities to ensure that the treasure, the pearl of great price, is their own. Similarly, to make the Kingdom our own, to integrate the Kingdom into our lives of Christian discipleship, is not a burden but part of the joy of believing and belonging. But it does involve changing our priorities. The (apparently poor) farm labourer needs to scrape together all the little he has to buy the field. A liquidation of assets is needed for the rich businessman. Joy leads to the selling, but it is only the actual selling of all they have that gets them the treasure.
So how then do we as individuals or as a Christian community reassess our priorities? In the first reading King Solomon, a thousand years before Christ, prayed for divine wisdom to rule his vast and diverse kingdom. We Christians have received that wisdom from on high, the Holy Spirit. In the second reading St Paul assures us that we Christian disciples are constantly graced to be co-workers in God’s eternal plan of wisdom and compassion in the here and now of our given lives. He even says we are called to be conformed to the image of his Son. To be Christ-like Christians. In Colossians (2:3) we find, echoing today’s parables, the beautiful description of Christ ‘in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’. If we have found this treasure, we have a duty to pass it on to others. And perhaps it is here that the next two parables come in.
Whereas the finding of treasure is something pertaining to folk lore, urban myth or to fable, the sorting out of fish is something just below the noses of Jesus audience gathered on the sea shore beside fishing boats, fishing nets and the actual sorting out of the gathered fish. But the various fishes are separated out by what they are. Christians will be separated out by what they have become: by how they have lived, how they have responded to their acceptance by Jesus. The great parable that opens this parable sequence is the one of seed falling on various soils – one springing up but on shallow earth falters and fails, one flourishes but is choked by wealth and/or the cares of life. It is a serious matter. As Jesus said earlier, ‘It is not the one who says “Lord! Lord!” who will enter the kingdom of heaven but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven’. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
At the end of the gospel Jesus refers to the Christian scribe. In a sense he is talking about all of us. Pondering the living words of Jesus and attentive to the Spirit we are all empowered to bring out of the treasuries of the faith ‘things both new and old’.
Photo credit: Fr Lawrence Lew OP.