XVII Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A – July 30, 2017
1King 3.5.7-12; Ps 119; Rm 8, 28-30; Mt 13.44-52
1Sam 3: 1-20; Ps 62; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Mt 4: 18-22
Sunday VIII after Pentecost
1) The Treasure of Life
This Sunday’s Gospel offers us the final part of chapter 13 of St. Matthew‘s gospel with the parables that compare the Kingdom of God to a treasure, to a precious stone and to a net thrown into the sea that gathers all kinds of fish.
While the parable of the net admonishes that the time of judgment is at the end of time and there is a time dedicated to penance, the parables of the treasure and of the pearl remind us of the necessity of making use of earthly riches in order to enter the kingdom of heaven and rejoice of this membership. These two short stories teach us above all that Jesus, the Savior of man, comes to offer to every person worried for his or her tomorrow, the true treasure and the true pearl that ensures happiness: the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is worth more than things, more than life. It has a prime value for which we must to be ready to sacrifice every other reality. The Lord, his friendship, his love, and eternal salvation are the treasure that no one can steal. There are those who give their life for a treasure and, today, Christ offers himself to us as the treasury of life: let us choose him.
In fact, with the two short parables of the treasure hidden in the field and pearl of invaluable value, the Messiah teaches two things.
The first is that the Kingdom requires a decisive and quick choice like that of the man who immediately sells all his possessions to buy the field with the treasure, or the merchant who, without wasting time, sells everything he has to buy a pearl of exceptional value.
The second is that the choice, which implies a total detachment, springs from having found something of inestimable value. This is the true teaching of the parable. The reason that compels the disciple to leave everything, is the joy of having found the treasure of life. The motive of joy is explicit in the parable of the man who buys the field: “Then he goes, full of joy, and sells all his belongings. “The Kingdom of God is demanding, but finding it has one hundred times value and eternal life.
I’ll explain it better. The two parables describe two different kind of people: the first tells us of a farmer who works a field that is not his, the second speaks to us about a merchant who is very rich. In my opinion, these two characters are the main characters only on the surface. The real protagonists are the treasure and the pearl that seduce the two men. The farmer and the merchant act because they are totally “grasped” by the treasure and the pearl they came across. If we recognize that the precious pearl or the invaluable treasure are Christ and His Kingdom, we also understand that the Redeemer does not say an obvious thing: it is obviously a real deal to buy something that has a value higher than what we pay for. Extraordinary is that with the offer we not only have more, but we are more: children of God, because we have “earned” the treasury of life: Christ. In this case it’s not just a lucky shot, but a wonderful grace to which to respond with prompt decision a total abandonment.
2) True Gain
An example of this decision and of the abandonment of what we have, comes from Saint Paul. He writes: “More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3: 8). The expression “I may gain Christ” has some strangeness. It is generally said to earn something, or to reach a goal, but not a person. If we pay attention to the Greek verb katalambano, we can perhaps recognize in it a note of aggression, almost of bullying so much so that some translate: “I continue my race to try to grab the prize, for I was also grabbed by Christ Jesus “(Phil 3:12).
I like this interpretation of the verb chosen by Paul because it indicates that to be a Christian requires strength of character. The violence that he has ventured against the Christians and Christ before his conversion, he now puts at the service of the truth. Is it not true that even Jesus had to say: “From the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent seize it “(Mt 11:12)?
In the letter to the Philippians that I mentioned just above, the Apostle of the Gentiles acknowledges to have fallen into a terrible mistake. He realizes to have married a wrong cause. Now he, enlightened by that same light that at first blinded him, confesses that it was a false gain, indeed a damaging gain, obviously alluding to the privilege of birth and education, and to every religious and moral effort.
In this re-reading of Paul’s conversion, we see the fruit of grace that heals emerging from the event of Jesus’ passion and death, but we can also acknowledge the action of illuminating grace that can only come from the event of the resurrection of Christ. Having been violently thrown from the horse to the ground is just one pale sign of the Jesus’ Easter victory over Saint Paul. His encounter with Christ on the path of Damascus has led him to formulate a new scale of values, subverting the ones that had previously characterized his life. What had seemed a gain now has become a loss, what seemed richness now has become rubbish, what looked just now has become unjust.
We can surely compare our experience to the one of Saint Paul. At a time in our lives, we have all been urged by the word of God, we all have encountered Christ who has called us into this dynamism of the faith that saves and that -first of all- comes from the heart of God and the heart of Christ. At a time in our life, Christ has met each one of us.
The consequence that arises is that a Christian, in order to be able to say that he is Christian to his/her deepest and to be able to say that he has been at the school of Jesus, must reproduce in himself the Christ like features of the crucified Christ. He must even look like the dead Jesus.
To do this, we must not be an exceptional person. We must have one pretension: that of crucified humility, such as that of St. Paul, who – presenting himself to the Christians of Corinth advanced a single claim: I had in fact decided not to teach you anything other than Christ and Christ crucified” And in order to not preach without meaning, he adds: “I presented myself to you weak, full of fear and worry “(1 Cor 2: 2-3).
It is important to propose to others what we have experienced on ourselves, without avoiding the “command of love” which binds us to the total gift of ourselves. A wonderful synthesis of this itinerary of ascesis to the Kingdom and of this exodus towards the Father’s House, is always given to us by St. Paul, when he writes: “Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus., “(Phil 3: 13-14).
3) The “gain” of the consecrated virgins.
Some might object: if the Apostle of the Gentiles was completely fascinated by his Lord, why should he feel the need to “earn” Christ?
Christ had already revealed himself clearly and had upset his life, filling him with joy. Yet despite this, Paul felt “forced” to earn the heart and love of Christ. Paul’s entire being – his ministry, his life, and the intrinsic purpose of it- was all focused only on the desire of please his Master and Lord. All the rest was rubbish, even the “good” things. Why is it “necessary” to gain the heart of Jesus? Are we not already the object of God’s love?
In fact, His benevolent love extends to all humanity. But there is another kind of love which must always grow and “earn” the beloved. It is the affectionate love for Christ, similar to the on between husband and wife. This love is expressed sublimely in the Song of Songs. In this book, the Bridegroom is portrayed as a kind of Christ, and in a passage the Lord speaks of his bride saying, “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride with one glance of your eyes with one bead of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride, how much better is your love than wine.” (Song of Songs 4,9-10)
The Bride of Christ is the Church, which aim to please his Lord. In the Church this spousal relationship is lived and witnessed in a special way by the consecrated virgins, who are called to live the love of Christ in loving and confident obedience, separating themselves from all earthly things, because their heart is abducted by Christ. Saying yes to Christ they let themselves ” to have their heat stolen “by Him, on Him they are called to focus, and in Him they love the neighbor, serving Him with joy.
Saint John Chrysostom (344/354 – 407)
Homily XLVII On Mt 13, 34-35
“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitudes in parables, and without a parable spake He not1 unto them; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things that have been kept secret2 from the foundation of the world.” (Comp. Ps 78,2) But Mark saith, “As they were able to hear it, He spake the word unto them in parables.” Mc 4,33 Then pointing out that He is not making a new thing, He brings in the Prophet also, proclaiming beforehand this His manner of teaching. And to teach us the purpose of Christ, how He discoursed in this manner, not that they might be ignorant, but that He might lead them to inquiry, he added, “And without a parable spake He nothing unto them.” Yet surely He did say many things without a parable; but then nothing. And for all this no man asked Him questions, whereas the Prophets, we know, they were often questioning: as Ezekiel (Ez 12,9 Ez 24,19 Ez 37,18), for instance; as many others: but these did no such thing. Yet surely His sayings were enough to cast them into perplexity, and to stir them up to the inquiry; for indeed a very sore punishment was threatened by those parables: however, not even so were they moved. Wherefore also He left them and went away. For, “Then,” saith he, “Jesus sent the multitudes away,6 and went into His house.” Mt 13,367 1 [R. V., “nothing,” following a reading accepted by Chrysostom, both here and in the comments. The received text has “not.”—R. ] 2 [R. V., “things hidden.”] 6 [R. V., “he left the multitudes.” Compare the previous sentence. But Chrysostom, with the rec. text. inserts “Jesus.”—R.] 7 the house (rec. text)). And not one of the Scribes follows Him; whence it is clear that for no other purpose did they follow, than to take hold of Him.8 But when they marked not His sayings, thenceforth He let them be. “And His disciples come unto Him, asking Him concerning the parable of the tares;” [Mt 13,36 freely cited.] although at times wishing to learn, and afraid Mc 9,32 to ask. Whence then arose their confidence in this instance? They had been told, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven;” and they were emboldened. Wherefore also they ask in private; not as grudging the multitude, but observing their Master’s law. For, “To these,” saith He, “it is not given.” And why may it be that they let pass the parable of the leaven, and of the mustard seed, and inquire concerning this? They let those pass, as being plainer; but about this, as having an affinity to that before spoken, and as setting forth something more than it, they are desirous to learn (since He would not have spoken the same to them a second time); for indeed they saw how severe was the threatening therein uttered.11 Wherefore neither doth He blame them, but rather completes His previous statements. And, as I am always saying, the parables must not be explained throughout word for word, since many absurdities will follow; this even He Himself is teaching us here in thus interpreting this parable. Thus He saith not at all who the servants are that came to Him, but, implying that He brought them in, for the sake of some order, and to make up the picture, He omits that part, and interprets those that are most urgent and essential, and for the sake of which the parable was spoken; signifying Himself to be Judge and Lord of all. “And He answered,” so it is said, “and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that soweth them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are angels. As there fore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of Man shall send His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;12 and shall cast them into the furnace of fire, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” 13 For whereas He Himself is the sower, and that of His own field, and out of His own kingdom He gathers, it is quite clear that the present world also is His. But mark His unspeakable love to man, and His leaning to bounty, and His disinclination to punishment; in that, when He sows, He sows in His own person, but when He punishes, it is by others, that is, by the angels. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Not because it will be just so much only, but because this star is surpassed in brightness by none that we know. He uses the comparisons that are known to us. And yet surely elsewhere He saith, the harvest is already come; as when He saith of the Samaritans, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” Jn 4,35 And again, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.” Mt 9,37 Lc 10,2 How then saith He there, that the harvest is already come, while here He said, it is yet to be? According to another signification. And how having elsewhere said, “One soweth, and another reapeth,” Jn 4,37 doth He here say, it is Himself that soweth? Because there again, He was speaking, to distinguish the apostles, not from Himself, but from the prophets, and that in the case of the Jews and Samaritans. Since certainly it was He who sowed through the prophets also. 8 ejpilabevsqai). 11 This passage is translated according to a conjectural emendation of Mr. Field). [The Greek text seems to be corrupt here. The Mss. readings yield no intelligible sense that can be considered coerect.—R.] 12 Or, “produce lawlessness,” tou;” poiou`nta” th;n ajnomivan ,in which sense it seems more directly applicable to heretics, who may not he vicious in their own lives, but produce a contempt of God’s law by their false doctrines). Transl). 13 [The long citation presents few textual variations of any kind, none that affect the sense.—R.] And at times He calls this self-same thing both harvest and sowing, naming it with relation, now to one thing, now to another. Thus when He is speaking of the conviction and obedience of His converts,17 He calls the thing “a harvest,” as though He had accomplished all; but when He is seeking after the fruit of their hearing, He calls it seed, and the end, harvest. And how saith He elsewhere, that “the righteous are caught up first?”18 Because they are indeed caught up first, but Christ being come, those others are given over to punishment, and then the former depart into, the kingdom of heaven. For because they must be in heaven, but He Himself is to come and judge all men here; having passed sentence upon these, like some king He rises with His friends, leading them to that blessed portion. Seest thou that the punishment is twofold, first to be burnt up, and then to fall from that glory? 2. But wherefore cloth He still go on, when the others have withdrawn, to speak to these also in parables? They had become wiser by His sayings, so as even to understand. At any rate, to them He saith afterwards, “Have ye understood all these things? They say unto Him, Yea, Lord.”19 So completely, together with its other objects, did the parable effect this too, that it made them more clear sighted. What then saith He again? 17 uJpakousavtwn). 18 1Th 4,17. 19 Mt 13,51, V., omits“ Lord,” so the oldest Mss. and the Vulgate.—R.] “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”20 Much as in the other place, the mustard seed and the leaven have but some little difference from each other, so here also these two parables, that of the treasure and that of the pearl. This being of course signified by both, that we ought to value the gospel above all things. And the former indeed, of the leaven and of the mustard seed, was spoken with a view to the power of the gospel, and to its surely prevailing over the world; but these declare its value, and great price. For as it extends itself like mustard seed, and prevails like leaven, so it is precious like a pearl, and affords full abundance like a treasure. We are then to learn not this only, that we ought to strip ourselves of everything else, and cling to the gospel, but also that we are to do so with joy; and when a man is dispossessing himself of his goods, he is to know that the transaction is gain, and not loss. Seest thou how both the gospel is hid in the world, and the good things in the gospel? Except thou sell all, thou buyest not; except thou have such a soul, anxious and inquiring, thou findest not. Two things therefore are requisite, abstinence from worldly matters, and watchfulness. For He saith “One seeking goodly pearls, who when he had found one of great price, sold all and bought it.” For the truth is one, and not in many divisions. And much as he that hath the pearl knows indeed himself that he is rich, but others know not, many times, that he is holding it in his hand (for there is no corporeal bulk); just so also with the gospel, they that have hold of it know that they are rich, but the unbelievers, not knowing of this treasure, are in ignorance also of our wealth. 3. After this, that we may not be confident in the gospel merely preached, nor think that faith only suffices us for salvation, He utters also another, an awful parable. Which then is this? That of the net. “For the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”21 And wherein doth this differ from the parable of the tares? For there too the one are saved the other perish; but there, for choosing of wicked doctrines; and those Before this again, for not giving heed to His sayings, but these for wickedness of life; who are the most wretched of all, having attained to His knowledge, and being caught, but not even so capable of being saved. Yet surely He saith elsewhere, that the shepherd Himself separates them, but here He saith the angels do this;22 and so with respect to the tares. How then is it? At one time He discourses to them in a way more suited to their dullness,23 at another time in a higher strain. And this parable He interprets without so much as being asked, but of His own motion He explained it by one part of it, and increased their awe. For lest, on being told, “They east the bad away,” thou shouldest suppose that ruin to be without danger; by His interpretation He signified the punishment, saying, “They will cast them into the furnace.”24 And He declared the gnashing of teeth, and the anguish, that it is unspeakable. Seest thou how many are the ways of destruction? By the rock, by the thorns, by the wayside, by the tares, by the net. Not without reason therefore did He say, “Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go away25 by it.”26 4. Having then uttered all this, and concluded His discourse in a tone to cause fear, and signified that these are the majority of cases (for He dwelt more on them). He saith, “Have ye understood al! these things? They say unto Him, Yea, Lord.”27 20 . [Here also the Greek text presents few peculiarities; tw`/ is omitted before ajgrw`/ in verse 44, as in a few Mss. of the New Testament.—R.] 21 Mt 13,47-48. [R. V., “which, when it was filled, they drew upon the beach,” etc.] 22 Mt 25,32. 23 pacuvteron). 24 Mt 13,50. 25 ajpercovmenoi, rec. text, eijsercovmenoi). 26 Mt 7,13. 27 Mt 13,51. [See note 7, p. 293.—R.]
With the wish to understand that life is a treasure but Christ is the treasure of life forever.