Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Blaine Barclay

July 30th, 2017

We have in our gospel today three short kingdom parables, and they are all very instructive for us. Most of Jesus’ parables start off with the phrase; ’’the kingdom of heaven is like…’’(Matthew) or ’’the kingdom of God is like…’’(Luke) This is followed by some story or illustration that is meant to open us up to the mystery of the reign of God, to help us to live under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we pray daily in the Our Father; “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’’.

Jesus tells us today that, ’the kingdom of heaven’ is like three things.  The surprise discovery of a treasure hidden in a field; the search for a pearl of great price; and a fishing net cast into the sea.  In relationship to all three of these parables Jesus teaches his disciples about the, ’’scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven’’.

As disciples of Jesus, each one of us is called to be a ‘scribe’, ‘trained for the kingdom’.  The word disciple means, learner, apprentice, someone who is being trained in a certain craft,   way of life, or, lifestyle practice.  The word ‘scribe’ implies that each one of us needs to spend time studying the word of god, or, as one author puts it, living our life ‘under the gaze of the bible’. We are not all meant to be scholars of course, but, as disciples, as those who want to take seriously the task of following Jesus, we all need to cultivate a greater familiarity with the Word of God, to expose ourselves to the leavening  influence of the bible, to allow our lives to be cultivated by a growing engagement with the holy scriptures, especially with the gospel narratives.  This can take the form of being especially attentive to the readings at mass, praying the liturgy of the hours, reading the gospel of Matthew during this year of Matthew, participating in a bible study or faith formation circle, or, some other form of praying with the scriptures.  Notice that in all these examples, the context is communal, liturgical, and personal prayer.  The ‘scribe’ being trained in the kingdom of heaven is in every case, called to personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.

The parable of the hidden treasure tells us that we are called to plow, to dig around in the field of God’s word.  The ancient Rabbi’s talked about the Torah, the Law, the scriptural text being like a field in which we are meant to dig and plough so as to uncover the hidden secret of the surpassing treasure of God’s wisdom.  Jesus is teaching in this Rabbinical tradition, but there is a twist in how Jesus hands on this teaching.  When we are digging around in the field of his word, and uncover hidden treasure, we are not meant to dig it up right away.  Although according to Jewish law, the person who found a treasure hidden in a field had a perfect right to that treasure.  Or, as we might say, ’finders keepers’.  No, the person in our story covers it up, hides it again, so as to allow this mystery of the kingdom of heaven to take root in the field of their heart, in their desire. To give them an opportunity to root out everything in their life that will prevent them from really making this surprising treasure their own, from experiencing the joy, the excitement of its discovery.

Next, we have the merchant in search of ‘the pearl of great price’, the ‘beautiful pearl of surpassing value’. Like wisdom itself, in the ancient world, the pearl with more precious than gold or fine jewels.  The merchant may have spent their whole life in search of this beautiful pearl.  You think they would have been prepared for its discovery, but no, first they must dispossess themselves from anything that would hold them back from really entering into the mystery of the kingdom.  Only the one who has been reduced to poverty can enter into the mystery of the Reign of God. ’’Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’’; says Jesus in the first Beatitude, the beatitude that contains all the other the beatitudes.

Sometimes our possessions own us more than we own them.  This is why it is so necessary for us to sell everything we have in order to allow ourselves to be owned by the ‘hidden treasure’, the ‘beautiful pearl of surpassing value’.  The wisdom of God, the kingdom of heaven is the only thing that really matters.  This surpassing joy of its discovery, of finding it after life’s long search, in turn compels us into the territory of the third parable of the net.  We want others to share in this joy, to find the hidden treasure, the beautiful pearl, to be caught in this net thrown by the word of God into the field of our lives.  “The kingdom of heaven is a like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.’’