Jul. 25, 2020

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2020

GOD’S KINGDOM IS A RADICAL CHOICE

Readings: 1st- 1 Kgs. 3:5, 7-12; 2nd- Rom. 8:28-30; Gospel- Matt. 13:44-52

Recently, we’ve been reading a series of parables from Christ which direct our minds to the reality of God’s kingdom. Three of these parables are presented again in today’s gospel. The first parable tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field that a person finds. He hides it again and as Christ emphasizes, “out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The person who finds this treasure makes every effort to secure it, goes quickly to sell all that he has and buys the field. Wisdom lies in the passion with which this person buys not just the treasure but the entire field that is hosting the treasure.

In the second parable, the merchant finds “a pearl of great price.” Like in the case of the lucky person who finds treasure in the field, the merchant goes and sells all that he has and buys the pearl. A pearl is described as a hard, glistening object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk or another animal, such as fossil. The finest quality of natural pearls has been highly valued as gemstones (mineral crystal used to make jewelry or ornaments) and objects of beauty for many centuries. The pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable. Understanding these characteristics of pearl is important for a proper appreciation of this parable. Wisdom guides the merchant to understand that he finds something rare, admirable, fine, and of great value.

The third parable is a little different, demonstrates what is going to happen at the end of time, a net thrown into the sea that collects fish of every kind. But we must realize how to approach the kingdom on earth in order to be counted among the good at the end of time. Christ says to his listeners at the end of the parables, “Do you understand all these things?” Do we understand these things today? Do we really understand the meaning of the treasures of the kingdom, how rare, valuable, fine, and of great value it is?

Most times, our lives are complicated by what we possess on earth and how much we let them control us. But faith invites us to make radical choices in view of eternity. Think about the man described as the rich fool in the scriptures. Having acquired enough in his store, he said to himself, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry” (Lk. 12:18-19). What happened was that that same night, God made a demand for his soul. The rich fool’s story is directly opposite to that of the merchant who finds the pearl of a great price. Whereas the rich fool was acquiring worldly materials at the expense of the heavenly, the merchant in the parable let go of the earthly to possess the heavenly. Can we let go of the things we hold tight on earth for God’s kingdom?

In some sense, the COVID situation has helped humanity to reflect deeper on the meaning of life, (im)mortality, and the value of human connections. Mortality happens so fast these days and does not count how much the individual possesses. We see someone today and the next we hear that the person is no more. Riches don’t save anyone, so what choices we make in life becomes important as to what our endings shall be. Some end of life-related research shows that the four common regrets people have at their deathbeds are:

  1. People say they wished they had not been so wrapped up in their work that they neglected their spouse and their children. More time with family, not office.
  2. People wished they had more time serving God. They missed witnessing opportunities and chances of doing good for others, being charitable and generous with their monies.
  3. People wished they shared their love more with those they loved not just in words but in action. You hear sayings like, “why didn’t I tell my wife that I love her more? Why didn’t I call my dad and apologize to him?”
  4. People have regretted lost opportunities to speak for their faith, opportunities to bear witness to the truth of the gospel, “I wished I had spoken out more about my faith to my children.”

In these constitute the kingdom of heaven and the challenge in today’s gospel is to make a radical choice. I’m sure we don’t want to have those regrets.

Before the COVID experience, we were crazy about so many trivial things- our kids must go to sports on Sunday morning. We do not go to Mass during vacation because we are on the beach. Most of us would absent from mass on the day the Ravens played or even leave mass half-way to tailgate. These things aren’t bad in themselves, but we let them take over us and we let God down. Where are vacations now? Where are sports? How long have we not seen the Ravens game? What things truly matter?

Like Solomon, we need the wisdom to identify the treasure that God has placed in front of us. We need the wisdom to make the radical choice amidst other choices. Solomon had the opportunity to ask for wealth, power, victory; he chose God’s understanding. Solomon found the treasure in knowing God, loving, and serving him. God blessed Solomon and rewarded him immensely for choosing Him over other attractions. No wonder Paul says in the second reading, “All things work for good to those who love God.” All things really work for good beyond imagined earthly goods and pleasures. Those who choose God’s kingdom give up earthly treasures.

The kingdom of heaven is this pearl of great price that lies in front of each baptized child of God- making peace with family members for instance is a pearl of great prize. Choosing it brings eternity, letting it go brings regrets at the deathbed. So, the kingdom of God is around us only if we have the wisdom of Solomon. It is found in the sacraments, the saving mysteries of Christ’s love. It is found in the intimacy of the Blessed Eucharist which we are privileged to celebrate weekly. It is found in the unborn needing to be loved and cherished. It is found in our daily interactions with others. It is found in the bonds of love, mercy, and forgiveness found among family members. It is found in humility which makes us understand God’s plan in our lives. Christ invites us thus, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).