Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: 7-30-17
Peace be with You,
Today we hear the last of three parabolic groupings concerning the Kingdom of God. To be sure, these parables have told us much, and yet, as we have seen over our discussions the last two Sundays, what they reveal is far exceeded by what remains hidden, for, as we have emphasized elsewhere, the Kingdom of God is ultimately a mystery. This is important for us to keep in mind, not that we might despair over this mysterious quality which we will never be able to master, but rather that we might be humbled by this elusiveness, for if we were capable of reaching out and grasping it, we would certainly fall victim to a false sense of presumption and pride at having plumbed and grasped the intricate workings which underlie all of reality. Now one might ask, isn’t to portray the situation we find ourselves in such a way simultaneously to portray God as a snobbish child, who runs around gloating amidst his friends saying, “I know something you don’t know!” or “that’s for me to know and you to find out!” Absolutely not, may we never fall prey to such a thought or portrayal of our God. Instead, the simple fact of the matter is that we fail by nature, meaning that the human mind, however intelligent, will never, NEVER, master neither the sheer immensity nor the microscopic intricacy with which God has established his creation (cf. Is. 55:8). That said, it has been revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ, whose very person is the mystery through, with, and in all that is held together, and it is he who continues to instruct us today on this very subject; as a loving parent educates a child, patiently bearing with the disproportionality in understanding, so that step by step, he might raise us up to the level of his divine glory which will become more evident next weekend.
Similar to last weekend, we are inundated with various images concerning the Kingdom of God in our gospel reading for today, receiving four such insights in the span of just eight verses (Matt 13:44-52). The danger here is that we hear them so quickly we might easily come to the conclusion that there is relatively little to explore here. However, as we explore each of these images we will soon realize how faulty such an assumption would be.
In the first parable, our Lord tells us, “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt. 13:44). In order to appreciate this parable for its worth, it may help to imagine to yourself in a similar situation (the same can be said for each of the first three parables we hear today). Notice, we are not told whether the individual spoken of was looking for the treasure he finds, or if he has stumbled upon this treasure unexpectedly. All we know is that they have stumbled upon it in property that does not belong to them, and because they have recognized it as being so valuable they go out and sell everything that they have in order to buy that field, presumably to excavate the treasure and take possession of it. Is there anything you long for so deeply, some desire that if fulfilled would make all else pale in comparison to it? Stop and think for a moment how outrageous this really is. This individual has gone all in on this, there are no hedging bets, there is nothing else left! Your entire life has become about this one thing! Thus, we have this overexagerated reaction, but right next to it, we have an exceedingly controlled reaction. Just think of what you would do if you find this thing. You would be running through the streets telling every single person you know! Jumping up and down saying I cannot believe my luck, you would be hugging strangers and kissing dogs (or the other way around maybe). In any case, this greatly tempered reaction is not what we would expect. Well you say, “of course he couldn’t say anything, he couldn’t risk the chance of someone else going and finding it before he was able to purchase the piece of land!” Then I ask you why leave it there? Why not take the thing with you and buy the land later and not risk it?
The reason is twofold. First, the thing cannot be moved, it is only found in one place and the individual will never take this treasure off of this piece of land, rather he will ultimately construct his life so as to exist forever right there where he has found this treasure. Secondly, notice that he must first go and sell all that he has in order to take possession of this location. This will not take place in a day, rather it will take him the rest of his life to sell everything he has in order to come up with the sum, for all he has is his very self. What we have here before us is a snapshot of our lives. The treasure in the field is the sole object of our happiness, the very Kingdom of God personified, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Incarnate, and if we accept the grace to recognize the treasure that has made itself known to us by the merciful revelation of God, we will be compelled to leave all else behind in order to be forever united with him, for we will have realized that to do anything else would be to forfeit our very selves (cf. Matt. 16:25, Mark 8:35 & Luke 9:24).
Our second parable offers a bit of a different dynamic. Here our Lord says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of find pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matt. 13:45-46). In contrast to the last parable, here it is made obvious that this individual is on the hunt for something, he knows that it’s out there, and he will recognize it when he sees it. However, there is an element of unexpectedness about the whole ordeal. Notice, that he is looking for pearls, plural, and finds a pearl, singular. We might think of this person as perhaps a truth seeker as the Greek philosophers of ancient times, in search of the underlying truths of the universe on their quest for happiness. Or, more mundanely, we might think of your average run of the mill teenager, looking for something that will make him or her happy, trying pleasure, wealth and power in turn before realizing that none of these alone will satisfy nor will their combination. Instead, there is One Truth (cf. John 14:6), and one source of happiness, and this is our God, whose intimacy exceeds the value of all else.
There is another element to note here before we move on. Notice please that the merchant is doing exactly what his profession calls him to do, look for pearls of high value; thus, if he were a real estate mogul he would be looking for prime real estate and if he were a farmer he would be looking for fruitful land. The point is this individual is doing exactly what his state in life bids him to do, and this speaks to the very depths of our nature. We are creatures made for happiness, which is why everyone wants to be happy. Everybody we know will ultimately justify their choices in life based upon their happiness. Try it out sometime, ask someone why they do what they do, and if you keep asking them why, eventually you will come to the point where they have no other reason for doing what they do except that they do it because they want to be happy either now or in the future, depending upon what they believe their ultimate happiness lies in. The point here is that we have been hardwired for God so to speak, and therefore our happiness can be found only in, with and through the Son of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, who became man to afford the human family the chance at having this happiness we so yearn for at the depths of our being.
Our third parable shifts gears on us a bit and instead of speaking of our current situation while asking us to look ahead to eternity, speaks from the point of view of the end of time looking back upon history. Here there are a few things that can be readily noticed. The first is that the kingdom of God encompasses all of reality. This is seen in the fact that when it comes to fishing a net does not discriminate as a particular lure would. A professional fisherman can tell you exactly what lure to use depending upon what kind of fish you are looking to catch at a given time of year and in a specific set of circumstances. Not so with a net, it’s going to catch anything in its path, it might pull up a bottom-feeding carp or catfish or a beautiful trophy size bass, maybe even a stray piece of drift wood. So too with the kingdom of God, for while now time is patiently guided along by the will of Divine Providence, at some point time will reach its far shore, and then it will be time to sort out what time has produced, may God grant us the grace to be found worthy of keeping safe for eternity, and not tossed out along with what is found unacceptable.
Our fourth and final parable shifts gears once again. Here we hear our Lord say, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:51-52). The Greek reads more literally a scribe who has been “disciplined into the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 13:52). Here we find a beautiful parallel with our first reading for today from the First Book of Kings. Therein, we hear a story similar to the fairy tales wherein a genie pops out of a bottle and grants the person possessing it one wish. Instead, even more tremendously, God appears to David’s son Solomon in a dream by night and says to the young king, “Ask what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5). The exchange that follows finds Solomon the perfect exemplar for the human family before the action of Divine Providence in history. In a verse that is skipped as heard from the pew, Solomon begins by noting first how God has dealt with his father David, recalling how God had been steadfast in his love for David because David had sought him in uprightness of heart (1 Kings 3:6).
This is a man who has been attentive to what has gone on around him, he has learned not only from his own personal history, but the history of those who have come before him. What’s more, he has been searching for the working of God in those events, and because of this attentiveness, his heart is humbled for it has witnessed both victory and tragedy, it has seen what beauty can come from being in intimate relationship with God and the ugliness that can come from willfully estranging oneself there from. Therefore, because of this attentiveness Solomon knows his position in life and says, “And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…” (First Kings 3:7 & 9). Notice that unlike Adam and Eve who sought to grasp at life and possess it on their own terms, bringing to themselves destruction, Solomon understands what is not within his reach or ability, he realizes that life is not an object to be possessed but that instead it must be received as gift from its only true possessor, God Himself, who orders and guides all things so as to reach their proper end. It is this Providence Solomon wants to align himself with, to see as It does, and why? not for himself, but to bring others into alignment with this very same will (v. 9). But notice please what happens, not only is Solomon granted this clear vision, but all else that God has to offer him, this makes Solomon, at least in this very moment, one of a kind, exactly who he is supposed to be (1 Kings 3:13). You see, because Solomon desires to see as God sees, he is made possessor of all things, not in the sense that he is owner of it, but that he is free to operate within it fully; for seeing as God sees he understands how everything fits and works together and the proper ends for which they were made.
This is an exact parallel to the scribe mentioned in our final parable for today. Because he has been disciplined into the kingdom of heaven, i.e. he has been trained so as to understand and live in harmony with the God who underlies and upholds all things in being, he can turn around and instruct others about it, referring to things old and new (Matt. 13:52), i.e. both things from the past and things from the present, why? because it is the very same God who has governed all things according to his loving Providence. To be able to understand this is perhaps the greatest gift of all, for it allows us to live in freedom, it allows us to live life to the full, and therefore, it is to receive the gift our God desires to give us (John 10:10).
My friends, if there is an underlying theme for us to walk away with this weekend perhaps it is this: that life is about coming to know the God who loved us into being, for it is in knowing him that we become fully alive. In his famous Confessions, St. Augustine writes about what if felt like for him to finally find God describing it like this: “Too late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new, too late have I loved You! Behold, You were within me and I was outside, and it was there that I sought You…You have called. You have cried out and pierced my deafness. You have poured forth Your light. You have shown forth and dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth Your fragrance, and I have inhaled and panted after You. I have tasted You, and I hunger and thirst for You. You have touched me, and I am inflamed with the desire for Your peace” (Confessions, Bk 10.27). The parables we have heard today are God’s way of wafting his fragrance in front of our noses, calling out to us to break through our hardness of hearing, shining a light in the midst of our darkness, all in the hopes that we might see a glimmer, hear a syllable, or smell the scent of him, for he knows that deep down we yearn for him, and once we come to this realization nothing will be able to keep us from him, from selling all we have to be with him. And if there is one thing I can promise you it is this, that each time we come to know more of the love that is our God, we feel the same way Augustine felt, like we have missed out on something more than we ever could have imagined, and we will long to have those days back, because nothing can compare to living life on God’s terms; it is more exciting than any feature film, and more beautiful than any song; it is life as God created it to be!
Lord Jesus Christ, open our ears to hear your voice, open our eyes to see your face, open our nostrils to smell the fragrance of your presence all around. Humble Jesus, grant us the grace this day of loving you with all that we are so that we may be saved of the pain of one day looking back and seeing in our past one more day apart from you; for it is through you in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit that we live, move, and have our full being, you who are one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Your servant in Christ,