30 July. 17th Sunday in O. T.
Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop and doctor of the Church
Pray for the gift of discernment, as our guide in all decisions. Many things intrinsic value, but to over-value our ownership of goods is to devalue God. I need to relax my grip on passing things, and hold firm to what is eternal. I need to get attached to the real treasure, the one thing really worth having..
1st Reading: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
King Solomon prays for discernment between good and evil
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 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. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life f your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
2nd Reading: Romans 8:28-30
If we simply love God, all that happens to us will work for our good
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Gospel: Matthew 13:44-52
Three parables: the treasure, the pearl and the net. The kingdom to be prized beyond everything else
Jesus said to his disciples,
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
That Priceless Pearl
Those of us from a rural background will know how fiercely an old farmer can cling to his land. But hanging on is not the answer. It only sows bitterness and frustration in sons whose best years are wasted in waiting. Sons who in turn never learn themselves from the mistakes of their fathers. Love alone can guarantee security and care in one’s declining years. Possessions provide only the illusion of security.
The ageing farmer is not the only one tempted to cling to things for a sense if security. Others have their own holdings from which only death can separate them. It may be property and wealth, status and prestige or power and influence. It may be the sense of importance that comes from being in charge, or a status and reputation we can no longer live up to.
“Ask what you would like me to give you,” God said to Solomon; and the young king replied, “Give your servant a heart to to discern between good and evil.” That wisdom the kind of substantial gift that we all need.
Solomon did not pray for wealth or splendour. At root, it is not so much things that we should rid ourselves of, as the lust of possession itself. Poverty is usually a negative term, and the poor are often despised. We should not let an African famine or a faraway disaster make us forget that poverty is also named as a beatitude. It is no accident that Christ began his Sermon on the Mount with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This eventually leads to the call to “leave all things.” A modern equivalent of the rich young man might wonder what he or she might give, to gain the pearl of great price. The trouble with most of us is that we want it both ways: all this and the good life too.
There is a pearl out there, for everyone. And there is a price for everyone to pay, to gain that. Detachment is that price. To be able to move on from what we cherish without looking back with regret. Often our dilemma is not that we can’t find the pearl but that we’re unwilling to pay the price.
Ideas for today’s homily…
For preaching purposes, the parable of the pearl and the first reading offer rich possibilities. What do I really desire? Into what do I really put my best effort? The depth of desire is a challenge to casual or half-hearted believing. Life as a quest is embedded deeply in the human psyche and often expressed in literature (e.g. Moby Dick or the many quest stories in John’s gospel). The quest can be quelled by distractions and we do live in a culture of distraction…and yet, the evident popularity, for example, of mindfulness and indeed Christian Meditation tells another story.
On the other hand, the reading from Romans 8 is also inviting. As Jeremiah puts it, For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NET) This great message of hope is offered to the Roman Christ-believers, who are divided within and under threat from without. Not at all unlike our own times.
(For Kieran’s audio-commentary, click here)
Have we discovered anything?
The two short parables in today’s Gospel have the same message. In each of them, the protagonist makes a great discovery, in one case a treasure of enormous value and in the other a pearl of incalculable price. Both of them react in the same way: joyfully and decisively selling all that they have to obtain that treasure or pearl. According to Jesus, that’s the way to react when we discover the Reign of God.
Seemingly Jesus is afraid that people follow him with all kinds of interests, without discovering what’s most vitally important: the Father’s passionate project that consists in leading humanity toward a more just, fraternal, happy world, thus walking toward their definitive salvation in God.
What can be said today after so many centuries of Christianity? Why do so many good Christians live such a narrow religious practice, feeling that they haven’t discovered anything to treasure? What is the root cause of that lack of enthusiasm and joy in all too many aspects of our church, incapable of attracting to the nucleus of the Gospel so many men and women who are leaving her, without thereby renouncing either God or Jesus?
After the Council, Pope Paul VI made this broad affirmation: “Only the Reign of God is absolute. Everything else is relative.” Years later, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this by saying: “The Church exists not just for herself, since she is oriented toward the Reign of God, of which she is the seed, sign and instrument.” And now Pope Francis repeats this clearly for us: “Jesus’ project is to inaugurate the Reign of God.”
If this is the Church’s faith, why are there Christians who haven’t even heard tell of that project that Jesus called “the Reign of God”? Why don’t they know that the passion that fueled Jesus’ whole life, his reason to be, the objective of all his work, was to announce and promote the Father’s humanizing project: seek the Reign of God and God’s justice?
The Church can’t be renewed to her foundations if she doesn’t discover the “treasure” of the Reign of God. What is the point of calling Christians to collaborate with God in the grand project of making the world more human, if we live distracted by practices and customs that cause us to forget the true nucleus of the Gospel?
Pope Francis is telling us that “the Reign of God places demands on us.” This call reaches us from the very heart of the Gospel. We must heed it. Surely the most important decision that we need to make today in the Church and in our Christian communities is that of recovering the project of the Reign of God joyfully and enthusiastically.