Three Parables

Three Parables

Seventeenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Peter Harries preaches on three more parables of the Kingdom.

Three short parables today. After a couple of weeks of long agricultural parables we get three short parables suitable for city dwellers, the world of work, of getting on in the world. The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure…, is like a merchant searching out pearls…, is like a net full of fish.

The first two parables, each a sentence long, call on us to decide. Now is the moment for action. Tomorrow may be too late. Buy the treasure-field now! Buy the pearl of great value now! Tomorrow, someone else may have bought them and we will be too late. The treasure will be gone, the pearl lost for ever.

Let us look at each of the parables. In the first we need to know that treasure belonged to the person legally responsible for “lifting” it out of the ground. For a labourer this meant the employer gained all.

If on the other hand the labourer owned the field the treasure would be the labourer’s own. There was apparently no obligation to tell the field’s previous owner about the hidden treasure. Sharp practice to us perhaps!

In the second the merchant sells everything to possess the pearl of great value. With this he can make his fortune. His dream is come true.

We can reflect that the message of the gospel is like a hidden treasure that we seek to discover, or like a fine pearl beautiful to look at in the light. These are secondary reflections. The main message is that we must seek our own long term advantage and act decisively now. Choose for God.

The third parable is slightly longer. The kingdom of heaven is like a net full of fish which must be sorted. The fishermen must sort out the good ones and throw away the useless ones.

The parable is perhaps not very ecologically sensitive at this juncture, but that is not the issue. Are the useless fish those without scales and creatures like crabs and so on which cannot be eaten under Jewish dietary laws? Whatever the details the fish can be sorted – some good – some not good.

The angels, we are told, will at the end of time separate good people from evil people and the evil will thrown into the blazing fire where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Judgement is the theme. Just like last week where the wheat is kept and stored while the darnel is burnt, so today we read of separation – of reward and punishment.

In our first reading Solomon asks God for wisdom. David his father had been a great military leader, a poet and musician. David had known success as king of a united people, capturing Jerusalem the holy city; and failure, betrayed by one of his own sons.

Solomon asked not for long life or riches but for wisdom, to be able to discern good and evil so that he could govern well. God gave him wisdom, a proverbial wisdom that would be remembered down the ages and that attracted the Queen of Sheba from the almost-legendary south.

Wisdom taught the merchant to throw aside caution and risk all to buy the pearl of great value. Wisdom taught the person to hide the treasure and seek to acquire it legally. In this world people are mixed up together like the fish in the net, good and evil. At the end everything will be sorted out by the angels – God’s messengers.

With wisdom we must leave much for God to sort out. Things can be rather a mess here and even with wisdom our judgement of good and evil can be confused. We cannot always know other people’s motives and weaknesses. We must seek the good. We must treasure the good like a pearl of great value.

So we must be like a scribe who brings out things old and new. We re-tell the parables again that people may seize upon their message and decide for God. We also bring out things new, as wisdom inspires us to interpret and judge the world we live in. We must seek the good and reject all evil. With wisdom we tell the old stories of the gospel and the new stories of God’s compassion and love.

Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5,7-12 | Rom 8:28-30 | Matt 13:44-52

fr. Peter Harries is chaplain to the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust.