Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday (30 July 2017)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“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 value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-45 – NRSV)
These two parables are unique to Matthew. They form part of the so-called “day of parables” found in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. These parables – and the parable of the dragnet which follows – are not so much concerned with those who reject Jesus but the nature of the kingdom and what happens in the lives of those who embrace it.
Daniel Harrington writes: “Again the kingdom is compared to the whole picture that follows. The two parables (the treasure and the pearl) probably circulated as a pair. They were included in Matthew’s ‘day of parables’ on the catchword basis of the term ‘field’ in the first parable. Political conditions in Palestine and the continuing threat of invasion made the burial of one’s valuables a common way of protecting them. The implication here seems to be that the present owner had no knowledge of what was hidden in the field. The rabbis debated precisely this point—whether the buyer of the field is entitled to any treasure found in it (Lachs, 229). The parable assumes that he was.” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 2007, 207.)
like a treasure: The focus is well and truly on the kingdom as something to be cherished. The analogy is unmistakably profane – it represents material wealth. As such we can think of it as an affirmation of the incarnational way in which God works. We call it sacramentality – in the material is the spiritual, in the human is the divine, in the temporal is the eternal and so on. Typically, a human being will be thrilled to find material treasure. Follow that line of thinking: How much more thrilling is it to find the kingdom! Material treasure can have a huge impact on a poor person’s life. Again follow the thinking: How much more the impact when you discover the kingdom!
someone found: “Someone” could be anyone, it could be you! And there is a serendipity to it all – the treasure is found. It is pure gift! When we “find” something, it implies a process over which we do not have control. It almost suggests that the treasure found us. If you knew there was a treasure there, we would simply go and get it.
in his joy: Benedict T Viviano OP writes: “This note (of joy) must not be overlooked: the kingdom is such a priceless treasure that a wise man would gladly give all to seize it; it is the chance of a lifetime. Half measures will not do for the kingdom of God.” (“Matthew” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E Brown et al, Geoffrey Chapman, 1990, 657.)
St Augustine believed that human beings are ultimately driven by love. He says, in one of his sermons: “Love cannot be idle. What is it that moves absolutely anyone, even to do evil, if it is not love? Show me a love that is idle and doing nothing. Scandals, adulteries, crimes, murders, every kind of excess, are they not the work of love? Cleanse your love, then. Divert into the garden the water that was running down the drain. Am I telling you not to love anything? Far from it! If you do not love anything you will be dolts, dead people, despicable creatures. Love, by all means, but take care what it is you love.” (St Augustine, Sermon II on the Psalms, 31:5)
That last instruction is all-important: “take care what it is you love”. The fully human life is one dedicated to facilitating the emergence of love – a love that is natural to us and , because of Jesus Christ, liberated by grace – doing all we can to discover the proper end or goal of that love. In other words, we need to keep the key question in mind: What do I really want? At the beginning of his Confessions, Augustine reminds us of the answer to that question: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You!”
There is a journey here. It is a journey of discovery, trial and error. Hopefully, it is also a journey into constant awakening and enlightenment, growing more and more to identify with that deepest hunger of the heart: To be in Love.
At their best, our experiences of loving point us towards the Source of all love. They encourage us along that way. However, they can also seduce us. Again, Augustine shares the wisdom of his experience: “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you! Behold you were within me while I was outside: it was there that I sought you, and, a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you.” (St. Augustine, Confessions, J. Ryan, ed., Image Books, Bk. 10, Ch. 27)
The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price hold out the possibility of our life being drawn by delight rather than driven by duty. Someone who has found “the treasure” or “the pearl of great price”, quite naturally and joyfully is drawn to let go of all else in order to have that. The Founder of the Marist Fathers, Jean Claude Colin (1790-1875), reminded us that once you have tasted God, all else will look after itself.
Are you drawn by delight or driven by duty?