17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JULY 26TH, 2020 (R. 1: 1 Kings 3: 5, 7- 12; Psalm 119: 57, 72, 76- 77, 127- 130; R. 2: Romans 8: 28- 30; Gospel: Matthew 13:44-52)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
SELL ALL, BUY ONE AND GAIN ALL!
The new pastor of a Church got up one Sunday morning and announced to his congregation: “I have good news and bad news for you. The good news: we already have all the money we need for our new building project. The bad news: the money is still in your pockets.”
The 13thChapter of the Gospel according to Matthew shows a significant turning-point in the public ministry of Jesus. Before this time, Jesus would be seen teaching, preaching and healing in the Synagogues and in the Temple, but now, he is on the street; the seashore has become his Cathedral, and the boat has become his pulpit as the religious leaders are violently turning against him. Also, in this chapter, Jesus fully develops his unique method of teaching through the use of parables. This chapter alone presents seven parables from Jesus.
After training his apostles to a considerable extent, Jesus sent them out to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom. Signs and wonders accompanied their proclamation, but they also faced a lot of opposition. The challenges they faced began to bring about such questions as, “What must we think of this ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, which changes very little of real life?” It is in answer to this question that Jesus gives the seven parables in Matthew 13 about the Kingdom of heaven. I shared with you two Sundays ago that in this liturgical year, the Church dedicates three consecutive Sundays to reflect on these seven parables.
Two Sundays ago, we reflected on the parable of the sower (the first of the seven parables). This parable is an encouragement to the preacher and a challenge to the listener. The preacher, who is the sower, must keep sowing, for the harvest is sure, no matter the challenges along the way. On the other hand, the parable challenges the listener to take some responsibility for the outcome, since the outcome of each good seed depends a lot on the kind of soil the seed falls.
Last Sunday, we moved over to three more of the parables, namely the parable of the weed and the wheat, the parable of the mustard seed, and the parable of the yeast. The first answers those who wonder why God allows evil people to co-exist with good people, while the second and the third are in response to those who question the humble beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Today, we reflect on the last three of the seven parables. The first is on the buried treasure, which a person finds, sells everything, and buys the land where the treasure was found. The second, which is like the first, is on a merchant searching for fine pearls, he finds one, sells all that he has, and buys it. The third parable is on the drag net that hauls every kind of fish to the seashore where they would be separated, the good from the bad. But who hid the treasure that was found in the first parable of today? In those days, it was common for people to bury valuable objects especially in times of wars when they needed to relocate. They buried such valuables with the intention of coming back when things were settled, but most often they died without coming back to the land, and without telling anyone about it. It was one of such valuables that was found in the first parable.
The first two parables of today present the kingdom of Heaven as the most valuable thing we can ever imagine, and that there is no action that we can take that can be too drastic to acquire the kingdom of Heaven. In the first parable, the person found the treasure by chance, while in the second, the merchant found the fine pearl after a deliberate search for it. Similarly, some people find the Kingdom of Heaven by chance. Maybe, they go for a social gathering, visit a friend, in marriage or something else, and in the process they find the Kingdom, while some others intentionally go in search of the Kingdom. It does not matter what route a person takes; all are welcome!
The first two parables of this Sunday share three important steps namely, finding, selling and buying. Both of them found something of great value, either by chance or as a result of a deliberate search. Next, they had to make themselves worthy of what they found by letting go of, that is, selling all they had before coming back to acquire what they found. Similarly, in our spiritual journey, we need to take these three important steps of finding, selling, and buying. Of these three steps, the middle one, which entails letting go is the most crucial and most challenging. The finding can be easy, either by chance or by deliberate search. Jesus says in Luke 17:21 that “The Kingdom of God is already among you.” Deuteronomy 30:14 says, “But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” Paul repeats the same point in his Letter to the Romans 10:8 saying, “The word is near you: it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is the message of faith we preach to you.”
A good example of one who found this Kingdom by chance is one of the thieves crucified next to Jesus. He was not searching for the kingdom. It only happened by chance that he was crucified on the same day with Jesus. But he took advantage of that chance, and on that very day, Jesus told him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Finding the kingdom does not solve it all, we must be ready to give something up. There were two thieves beside Jesus on that day, but only one was ready to give up the old ways to embrace the new. We all know for example that coming to Mass is the right thing to do. We know that loving our neighbors is something good. We know that being in government, it is good to be responsible with the resources entrusted to us. That is why politicians are usually very saintly during campaigns. No one has ever promised during campaigns that they would not pay salaries to workers or that they would embezzle public funds. They know the right thing. We know it is good to respect everybody. We know that racism is evil. We know that it is evil to be violent. But are we ready to sell to gain what we have discovered? Are we ready to let go of things that keep us from participating at Mass? Are we ready to let go of that false sense of security that comes from stealing the money that is meant for the public? Are we ready to let go of that distorted feeling of comfort that comes from making others to feel uncomfortable because they do not look like us or talk like us? Are we ready to let go of that distorted feeling of satisfaction that comes from retaliation or violence? It is easy to know the right thing to do, but when it comes to letting go of the old habits it becomes difficult. A great lesson from the first two parables is that as soon as they discovered what they valued, they wasted no time; they acted immediately.
King Solomon in the first reading was asked to make a wish. Like the men in the first two parables of today, he decided to let go of every other thing and to ask for the gift of wisdom. Like Solomon, let us pray for the wisdom to recognize the great treasure of the Kingdom of God and the grace to act immediately. The beauty of this choice is that nothing we give up for the sake of the Kingdom is lost, for scripture (Matthew 6:33) says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” Allelu Alleluia!
My Dearly Beloved in Christ, the message today is: let go, and let God!