“Treasure in a Field” – Reflection for the 17th Sunday

Reflection for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 27 July 2014 - by Rosemary O'Connor & Patrick Sullivan

Lectio divina on Mt 13,44-52 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

In explaining the kingdom of God to the crowds, Jesus frequently made use of parables. It is interesting that Jesus speaks of God by relating facts from everyday life. A God whose way of acting can be described in such simple everyday terms, is not a distant God far removed from our lives and the problems we face. Jesus teaches us to look at the world and see God in everyday things. This was the first thing he wanted to inculcate in his listeners. Finding yourself in the presence of God is not very different from the experience of someone who, one fine day, discovers a great treasure. Is not God our greatest treasure?

Jesus said to the crowds, 44  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,  46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51  “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

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I   Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.

Jesus “spoke to the crowds in parables” (13,34) and he concludes his discourse on the kingdom of God with three short parables. The first two explain, not the appearance of the kingdom, but its hidden nature, and the irresistible attraction it has for those who discover it. The emphasis is on the reaction of the one who finds the treasure or the one who has been anxiously seeking the pearl. Jesus wants to make clear that the kingdom of God is not readily available to all, but that all can find it. It is like the treasure or the precious stone, which has to be discovered. He gives an example to help us to understand his thought: when someone knows where the treasure is, he will be ready to sell all to get it. He will give up everything he has to possess it. A radical renunciation is required – it is the price that must be paid to attain the kingdom. Anyone who is not capable of that radical renunciation is ignoring the teaching of God. If he does not feel obliged to free himself of all his possessions, it means that he has not yet found the treasure that he needs and desires. The demand that Jesus made of his disciples is still valid today. The joy of the one who loses everything is possible only if one knows how to gain the kingdom of God. God does not impose this renunciation as an end in itself, but he presupposes it as a condition. If God does not ask us to renounce anything, it is because we have not yet discovered the kingdom as our supreme good.

The third and last parable, the one of the dragnet, marks a major change in Jesus’ line of thought. From an exhortation to opt for God, cost what it may, once we have recognised the presence of his kingdom, he goes on to remind us of the appointment that will come, when we have to render an account of our lives. Anyone who is incapable of renouncing everything to be with God, will finish up at the end of time with nothing. If we do not opt for God, at any price, we will gain nothing, and we will not be saved from “the blazing furnace”. Postponing our decision for God and his kingdom, will not make God postpone his decision in our regard. In the meantime, there may be another opportunity. We have been warned!

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

The cleverness of the person who is lucky enough to find hidden treasure, and then sells all he has to acquire it, or the quick action of the merchant who comes across a precious pearl, is the normal reaction we would all have if, like them, we found something of great value. Which of us would not have guarded the treasure we found, and buried it again until we could come and take possession of it, even if it meant losing everything else we had?  Who would not be capable of sacrificing all his goods in order to gain the pearl of life?

If this way of acting does not strike us as extraordinary, if we understand that it is possible to risk all we have to gain what is not yet ours, then Jesus is asking us today, as he asked the people when he spoke these parables, why do you not act the same way with God? What more do you need, to make you decide to put God before all the other goods that you possess or desire?

The one who discovered the treasure, or the merchant who dealt in pearls, came unexpectedly upon something they had not been looking for or hoping for, and they had not expected to become owners of such wealth. They did not want to lose time but they had to lose all their possessions. They knew that if they sold all they had, they could acquire the treasure they had found. To become owners of it they had to give up everything they had. Since they knew that what they had discovered was more precious and more valuable than all they possessed, they were able to act quickly. Their detachment was total because all they possessed was just enough to acquire the treasure they had found.

The kingdom of God is like hidden treasure or a precious pearl. When someone discovers it, he finds within himself the determination to sell all to acquire it. When we discover the kingdom, we discover also that the things we own, even when we put them all together, are of less value than the kingdom. Once we realize that, we will have the courage to let go of everything that gets in the way of the kingdom.

Well then, if the kingdom gives rise to that kind of reaction in anyone who discovers it, if God calls for that kind of detachment from those who know where he is to be found, what is happening to us?  Why do we continue to cling to the things we have, big and small? Why are we so afraid of losing the little we have? Why do God and his kingdom not succeed in arousing in us the reaction that is normal when one discovers a treasure or a pearl of great value? Could it be because God and his kingdom are not yet our greatest treasure and our most cherished discovery?

It is hard to renounce something good if the treasure we have found is not worth it. We will not risk losing what we have gained in life, if we are not convinced that what we have found is the greatest good in our lives. This explains why we find it so hard to detach ourselves from things, even though we do not want to lose God or lose the way to find him. It is precisely because God has not yet become our supreme good, the one we desire most, because his kingdom is not yet the treasure we want to discover, that we are unwilling to risk everything to possess it. We continue then to hold on to our goods, and fail to discover God as our supreme good. What we already have, keeps us from having God, and leads us to value people or things, or our personal plans, as good things we do not want to lose, even for God.

If God does not have an irresistible attraction for us, and if his kingdom does not waken in our hearts the capacity for renunciation, then we have to say that we have not yet discovered the kingdom that it is still hidden from us. This should not surprise us too much. Like the treasure still hidden, or the pearl whose value is not appreciated, God is there waiting for us to come looking for him and hoping that we will find him and recognise him. Jesus wanted his listeners to know that the kingdom of God is not for all to see, but is hidden from the majority.

Still, while it may be hidden wherever we are, it is not far away.  Indeed it may well be like the hidden treasure or the precious stone, waiting and longing to be discovered. He gives us a clue to help us to discern his plan: God knows where he will find people who are willing to give up all and be converted. Anyone who finds the kingdom of God will be able to give up all he possesses to acquire it.   Even the most radical renunciation becomes possible, if it is the price to be paid to find the kingdom. If we truly seek God, how can other things be of importance to us? If we want to stay with God, how can we refuse to give up other things, no matter how good or valuable they may be?

Anyone who does not feel capable of giving up something, does not truly appreciate God. Nobody in his right mind would give up what he has, unless he finds something of greater value.  If we cannot find the will to give up whatever in our lives is not of God, it means that we have not yet found God.  We Christians run the risk of losing God if we value him less than other things we possess, and are not able to renounce everything for his sake. Anyone who does not feel obliged to free himself of all his possessions, has not yet discovered the treasure which is the kingdom.

The demand that Jesus made of his disciples is still relevant today. The joy of one who loses all is possible only for one who knows the joy of possessing God and his kingdom. God does not impose renunciation as an end in itself, but requires it as a prior condition, and he obliges us to value him above all things. God would be of no value if it cost nothing to discover him. We would have very little appreciation of God if he did not ask us to give up something in order to have him. If God is not worth some effort on our part, if we make no sacrifice to have him, it means that we have not yet acknowledged him as our supreme good. What we are and what we have is worth nothing, no matter how good we are and how many good things we possess, if, at the end, we remain without God today and without his kingdom in the future.