Jul 26, 2014

17th Sunday: Priceless treasures

"The kingdom of heaven is like . . ."
1 Kgs 3: 5, 7-12
Rm 8: 28-30
Mt 13: 44 - 52
What is your treasure? What or who do you value the most?  Who do you cling to as spouse or friend or child? What do you hold so precious that it has been placed in a safe deposit box in order that it never be lost? What activity do you spend a large part of your day or week involved in or thinking about?
Such questions may not be ones we consciously ask ourselves but they do give us the opportunity to set priorities.  We all have people, things, activities we hold dear and enjoy. They define our day and our lives. 

But a more fundamental question for us Christians is presented to us in our Gospel today.  In fact the last two Sundays offered us similar reflections. Parables of Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew 13 continue today, in which Jesus uses an array of images from both nature and ancient agricultural life we may feel a bit of parable overload. Jesus begins with simple images his crowds were very familiar with.  He begins, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”
“A sower who scatters seed wide and far

Wheat and weeds growing together
A mustard seed which grows to a large bush

Yeast in wheat flour
A treasure buried in a field

A fine pearl of great price
A net thrown into the sea which “collects fish of every kind.’”

In other words, what is your treasure? In all the values we hold dear and the priorities we set, where is that of the kingdom of heaven?  The kingdom of heaven is Jesus way of calling us to a new way of life according to his teachings, morals, and priorities.  That teaching is not cheap grace but rather a priceless treasure offered to everyone.  Yes, to you and me.
The image of a treasure in a field, for example, may be unusual to us but to the ancients it is important to remember that there were no banks, credit unions, or stock markets.  There was no safe way for the average person to protect whatever valuables or money they may have had, unless you were among the very rare rich and elite. So, most people would hide their treasures or their money by burying them in the property near where they lived. 

However, this false sense of security was easily shattered when thieves would uncover the valuables or if there was war and the residents had to flee their property.  Jewish law said essentially “finders keepers” so if you uncovered a treasure, it was yours.  Obviously this parable reflects that but in an exaggerated way. 
The “treasure buried in a field” must have been so enormous that whoever found it recognized its great value and in order to keep it secure buried it again then went and bought the entire field around it!  If Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven, God’s ways, is like that then our faith is priceless and nothing we possess can equal its value.  So, why would you not want such a treasure? Yes, we can all be rich. 

In the end, our life is called to be one in which we pursue above all other things and even human relationships this treasure of the kingdom of heaven.  But wait!  How can we give up the people we love? Why would Jesus ask us to do such a thing?
Well, he isn’t.  Even monks in monasteries and women religious who may live a cloistered life have special people in their lives.  But, if those people become “gods” for us or if they diminish rather than enhance our spiritual lives or somehow pull us away from what is holy and good, then we have misplaced priorities. What are your friends like and how much influence do they have over you?

Our first reading from the Book of Kings presents King Solomon who, at least as he began his rule, had the best of intentions and the right priorities. As King he could have amassed earthly wealth, power and prestige.  But Solomon prays: "Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong." Needless to say, God was extremely pleased with this selfless prayer. Unfortunately, Solomon later misplaced his intentions so it is a warning to all of us.  

Yet, it’s all about getting our priorities straight as Christians. Certainly as Catholics we have a treasure in our faith, sacraments, traditions, charitable institutions, music and opportunities for serving the needs of others.  Are we making the best of what we have been given? 
Among the greatest treasures we have is the Holy Eucharist, the true presence of Christ in our midst each time our Mass is celebrated.  And each time we approach the altar we are offered a priceless gift: God himself among us who calls each of us to live holy lives and shows us how to do that.

If you can find anything better than that – then go for it!    
O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation,
nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass
in such a way as to hold fast even now
to those that ever endure.
(Collect for Sunday: Roman Missal)