Michael SimoneJuly 14, 2017

‘Out of joy, [he] goes and sells all that he has.’

Liturgical day
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 3:5-12, Ps 119, Rom 8:28-30, Mt 13:44-52

How have you learned to discern God’s kingdom?

How consistently do you seek it out?

What is the boldest action you have ever taken for Christ? What did you hope for?

In Matthew’s Gospel, “kingdom of heaven” refers to God’s coming action to set creation aright. Jesus uses the phrase throughout his ministry, but it is only in this, his third great discourse, that he expands on the idea.

Over the past two weeks we learned that admission to the kingdom is dependent on faith and that citizens of God’s kingdom experience both abundance and opposition. Matthew affirms in the parable of the wheat and weeds and the parable of the dragnet that true membership in the kingdom is clear only to God. Jesus offers two parables this week on another theme: that participation in the kingdom is worth great sacrifice.

Jesus chooses two symbols to illustrate this point. First, he likens the kingdom to discovered treasure. This was a frequent experience in the war-torn ancient Near East. At the approach of an army, people hid their valuables in secret places with the intent to collect them after the conflict. This was not possible in every instance, and archaeologists today often find ancient hordes in caves, cisterns and ruins throughout the southern Levant. Discovered treasure was so common in Jesus’ day that several laws were dedicated to it. In general, the treasure became the property of the landowner, not the finder, which is why the person in the parable must sacrifice everything to purchase the field.

The second parable offers a similar lesson. A merchant, looking at the offerings of pearl divers, recognizes “a pearl of great price” or, as some scholars translate, “an especially valuable pearl.” The pearl divers clearly know they found something of great value, and the merchant needs to liquidate every asset to purchase it. Nonetheless, the merchant is confident that he can get a substantially higher price from someone not able to deal with the divers directly, making the temporary sacrifice worth the effort.

These parables yield four lessons about the kingdom. First, the value of the kingdom is not apparent to the untrained eye. Just as the treasure hunter and the merchant had special insights that revealed the value of their discovery, so Christ’s disciples must be able to recognize the kingdom when they find it.

Second, the kingdom requires searching out. The valuable items discovered in the parables were not apparent to everyone. It is only to those who have trained themselves to discern the signs of God’s kingdom that it will be apparent.

Third, acquiring the kingdom requires a certain audacity. The treasure hunter and merchant were ready to take significant financial risks to achieve their goals. Just so, Jesus charges his disciples to be similarly fearless in their response to God’s call.

Fourth, the present sacrifices express hope in a future joy. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the material and spiritual abundance that result from the adversities of discipleship. Many people would undergo hardship for financial gain. Jesus invites his disciples to do the same to attain the kingdom.

This is the lesson of the section of Matthew's Gospel known as the Kingdom Discourse, which concludes in today’s Gospel. God’s kingdom is worth the wait, worth the labor and worth the sacrifice. The hardships are temporary; the rewards last forever.

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