17th SUNDAY (A) JULY 26, 2020

1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Ps119; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Friends:

Thanks to those who sent in donations to keep "First Impressions" free for so many – especially these days when people are searching for resources for their "stay-at-home prayer" and "on-line worship." I know times are financially tough, so I especially appreciate your sacrifice. If you haven’t, and would like to make a donation, see the details at the end of these reflections. And again, thank you.

Suppose God appeared to you and made an offer: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." After the initial "Wow!" – What would you ask for? And what will your response reveal about your heart’s deepest desire, or need? These days our response might be different than at "normal" times. We might ask for a good paying job, because we lost ours due to the shutdowns. We might ask for a cure for a virus-infected loved one. Or, let’s admit, our first request might be for a lot of money to see us through these and future days.

That was the choice put to Solomon: "Ask something of me and I will give it." When we want to compliment someone for making a good decision we might say, "You have the wisdom of Solomon." He is the biblical personification of wisdom. How did he get so wise? Our first reading attributes his wisdom to God. It is the beginning of Solomon’s kingship and, as he looked ahead, he knew what he needed to be a good ruler – the blessing of wisdom. His response to God, "I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act."

And doesn’t that sum up what a lot of us are experiencing these days? His prayer could very well be our prayer, as we consider our present situation and ponder our future – our threatened and disjointed future. How will we get through these and the long days ahead? When will it end and when it does, what will our lives be like? We don’t know the answer to these questions, but we do know what we will need to persevere and adjust to our new lives on the other side of this awful, life-stealing pandemic. We need wisdom for all the reshuffling we will have to do and so today, as a community of believers, we pray Solomon’s praye: "Give your servants therefore, an understanding heart... Give us, your believing and fragile people, wisdom."

Today’s gospel is taken from chapter 13 in Matthew’s Gospel. It is a chapter in which Jesus teaches his disciples through parables about the kingdom of heaven. When he speaks of the kingdom he is not describing the next life, but God’s presence and activity in our present, everyday lives. As the saying goes, "The kingdom of heaven is now, or never." – here and now, not in the next life. I’m not denying the reality of the next life; but that is not what Jesus is talking about when he speaks of the kingdom.

Parables overturn our conventional ways of thinking and judging. They subvert our take-for-granted way of seeing God’s actions in our daily lives. Today’s parables are brief and filled with action verbs: buried, finds, hides, buys, searching, etc. When Jesus describes "the kingdom of heaven" he does not mean it is like a treasure, or a pearl. Rather, the presence of the kingdom is shown by what transpires in the stories. Today’s parables, and those throughout the gospels, attempt to open our eyes and ears to what God is doing now in surprising ways, times, places and persons. Parables are epiphanies, they surprise us by revealing God’s ways, stir us to wonder and then, to act on what we have experienced.

Parables show was what is happening all the time. Like the man crossing the field, we might be distracted by where we are going, or what we are doing and then... we come upon a treasure, as if by chance. What does it look like: a new loving relationship, an opportunity to serve, and insight into the beauty of God, a wise and generous friend, a book of meditations, a new post-pandemic life, etc.? Whatever it is, we will need to adjust, let go, move over and make room to allow it into our lives. But, as the parable of the buried treasure suggests, it will cost us. We will have to make room for it in our lives, give up what we used to think was valuable and desirous and "buy that field."

In the parable of the treasure in the field, Jesus risks using a conniving character who re-buries a treasure in a field that is not his and buys the field to get the treasure. It must have been quite a valuable treasure to cause him to sell everything he had to buy the field – and to do it with joy! No groaning, grunting sacrifice here! The lucky guy knows what he has come upon; it makes everything else he has saved and treasured immediately dispensable – everything is sold now that he has come upon a real treasure.

I have to rethink what I value and consider my treasures; run an honest eye over the landscape of my own life. What do I consider special and valuable? Is it really so valuable in the light of what I would gain by buying the field with its treasure? What sacrifice must I make to refocus my life for a better and lasting treasure? Have I overinvested in work and career and put off the treasure of my family? In one way or another, a lot of us have invested in a "field." But is that where the lasting treasure truly lies for us? In dire need will I go to dig up that treasure someday and find it gone? Or valueless, no longer worth the time and effort I put into it? What a sad and lonely surprise party that will be!

The same can be said for the "pearl." The parable raises a question: Have we become complacent and too comfortable, no longer searchers? Have we stopped believing something valuable awaits us that can add newness and richness to our lives?

In the bible, the pearl is a symbol of wisdom. In our first reading, when Solomon was given a choice to ask for anything, he prayed for wisdom. It is a practical, everyday gift and that’s what we pray for today. Why do we pray or, (if possible), gather at Eucharist? Because we too are searchers and, like Solomon, need wisdom to help us make decisions each day for God and God’s ways; how to invest our precious time and energies in ways that serve God, our treasure.

I have tripped more than once over the treasure in the field, found the sought-after pearl of great price, or discovered that what the net dragged in really is a feast.

The parables have us look again at everyday events and, with the help of the parables’ lens, see that life is really charged with God’s surprising presence; in the most unlikely places and among the most unlikely people. Today’s parables are good examples of the surprise party the reign of God is.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: