Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 11 KGS 3:5, 7-12
Responsorial PsalmPS 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
- (97a) Lord, I love your commands.
- Reading 2ROM 8:28-30
AlleluiaCF. MT 11:25
Homily— July 29 & 30, 2017
In the first reading from the first book of Kings, God says to Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” I wonder what our answer would be if God said this to us! “The Lord was pleased that Solomon” asked for an understanding heart instead of for long life or riches.
In the second reading Paul writes the comforting words, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Let us set our worries aside and trust that with God all will work out for the good.
Now we move to the gospel and I would like to begin with a little information about the gospels. No one is certain this Gospel writer was actually named Matthew. Proper names weren’t attached to the Gospels until several generations after their composition. Originally, they were written anonymously. But, no matter his name, the author provides us today with a definition of himself and a description of his ministry.
Over the past two weeks we learned that admission to the kingdom is dependent on faith and that citizens of God’s kingdom experience both abundance and opposition. Matthew affirms in the parable of the wheat and weeds and the parable of the dragnet that true membership in the kingdom is clear only to God. Jesus offers two parables this week on another theme: that participation in the kingdom is worth great sacrifice.
In the first image Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a great treasure that is wonderfully discovered in a field. The laws of that time dictated that the treasure became the property of the landowner, not the finder, which is why the person in the parable must sacrifice everything to purchase the field. No risk, no reward.
The second parable offers a similar lesson. A merchant, looking at the offerings of pearl divers, recognizes “a pearl of great price” or as some scholars translate, “an especially valuable pearl.” The pearl divers clearly know they found something of great value, and the merchant needs to liquidate every asset to purchase it. Nonetheless, the merchant is confident that he can get a substantially higher price from someone not able to deal with the divers directly, making the temporary sacrifice worth the effort.
Jesus then compares the kingdom to a dragnet used by local fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Most of the Twelve and many other disciples would be familiar with this image as they were professional fishermen. It was hard work laying out the dragnet between boats. When the net was full you had to exert great effort to bring it to shore. You were working against the water and the fish the net contained, not knowing whether the catch had any market value. Still, you were willing to do the heavy lifting. Once on the shore your work is not done. You still have to sort out the clean (finned and scaled fish) from the unclean (catfish and eels) before you could sent the haul to market. Is the hard work worth the reward? If the kingdom of God is discovered then the answer is a resounding yes!
These parables yield four lessons about the kingdom. First the value of the kingdom is not apparent to the untrained eye. Just as the treasure hunter and the merchant had special insights that revealed the value of their discovery, so Christ’s disciples must be able to recognize the kingdom when they find it.
Second, the kingdom requires searching out. The valuable items discovered in the parables were not apparent to everyone. It is only to those who have trained themselves to discern the signs of God’s kingdom that it will be apparent.
Third, acquiring the kingdom requires a certain audacity. The treasure hunter and merchant were ready to take significant financial risks to achieve their goals. Just so, Jesus charges his disciples to be similarly fearless in their response to God’s call.
Fourth, the present sacrifices express hope in a future joy. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the material and spiritual abundance that result from the adversities of discipleship. Many people would undergo hardship for financial gain. Jesus invites his disciples to do the same to attain the kingdom.
At our Thursday morning men’s prayer group we talked about whether we were willing to “go all in” for something like the kingdom. It seems we were a little hesitant to do so. And yet we need to remember that God’s kingdom is worth the wait, worth the labor and worth the sacrifice. The hardships are temporary; the rewards last forever.
Where do we put our biggest investment? Is it a car? It is for me. For most it may be a house, maybe a vacation cabin or a RV? What kind of an investment are we willing to make to be in God’s kingdom? We know there is nothing better.