1 Kings 3:5.7-12 Romans 8:28-30 Matthew 13:44-52
The Gospel today is rich in images: buried treasure, fine pearls, and nets full of fish. But then it ends on a frightening note of wailing and grinding of teeth. With a sigh of relief we remember that the net collects all manners of fish regardless of quality. It even includes the clam, which though ugly in appearance is the source of the fine pearl. Unlike other precious stones, the pearl originates in a living thing, a speck of foreign matter making way inside the shell. It is now held closely and transformed into something very precious. In the first reading Solomon asked for wisdom and discernment. Wisdom is much more than knowing a lot of things or having prestigious university degrees. Being endowed with wisdom is much more than being just a morally very good person. Wisdom gives an in-sight into what is truly important in life, an awareness of the meaning and purpose of living, of what really matters. With Solomon we pray for a wise and discerning mind one that recognizes the potential for goodness in everyone regardless of our own prejudices. In the words of St Paul, we are called and justified, the strong and the week, friend and the stranger as me move on our journey to glory, led by his grace. Paul tells the Romans how God knew before creation which one of us would respond to His grace through our own free will. He knew beforehand which ones of us would live our Christian faith in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, shining in Divine love so we may inherit the Kingdom of God.
We reflect for a while on the Gospel readings. This is centered on the parables of the Kingdom from Matthew chapter 13. We are again presented today with three parables, two of which are closely linked in meaning but with slight differences. The people of Jesus’ time would have understood them all very easily. They were drawn from scenes of everyday life with which they were perfectly familiar. The first and second parables are in effect saying that to know God and to live according to the Gospel, are the most precious things in life. Through Jesus and the Gospel we come to know and understand the meaning of life and the meaning of the kingdom of God. Kingdom is God’s rule in the heart of the person. God chooses to rule in the heart of the person in his own personal way and makes his life meaningful.
In the first parable Jesus compares entering the Kingdom to a man who finds treasure in a field. We need to know that in those days, there were no places to hide precious things or money as we have banks today. Only the rich had access to places where their possessions were secure. Hence ordinary people would hide money and gold under the ground. Sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances they had to leave the place and the treasure was left behind. There might be little possibility of recovering them. Someone might stumble on their treasure and, according to Jewish law finder could regard it as his own. In this parable, the man comes across the treasure but the field where it is hidden does not belong to him. He sells everything he has in order to get ownership of the field and hence of its buried treasure. The idea obviously is that when one really discovers Jesus everything else becomes secondary. In the service of the Kingdom there are no half measures and in that service there is a special kind of liberating joy. Hence Paul could easily say to the Philippians, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” The second parable is similar. A businessman looks for fine pearls. When he finds the one he wants, he sells everything else in order to acquire it.
A slight, if significant, difference has been pointed out between the two stories. For, in the first, the man was not actually looking for the treasure. Perhaps he found it while digging the ground that is, in the course of his ordinary working day. Same way one may encounter Jesus unexpectedly and make all efforts to secure him. This is real conversion, a transformation of a person. In the second parable, however, the man is on the lookout for something special, a pearl of great price. He knows it must exist and he uses all his energies to find it. There is a relentless search and final discovery. This is the search of the Christian at the Baptism. This is the treasure hidden in a field for which a man sells everything to have. This is the fine pearl for which a merchant sells everything he owns in order to get it. For here there is truth, here there is love and caring, here there is freedom and peace.
This brings us to the third parable today. While the first and second parables speak of the total commitment and dedication which are the ideal of every follower of Christ, this third parable helps to put our two feet firmly back on the ground. This parable reminds us that the Church and even the Kingdom in the process of its evolution is full of all kinds of people. Our Church is a Church of both saints and sinners. The role of the Church is to accept into its bosom “the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame” and lead them to the treasure and the pearl of great price. This is what the parable of net and different type of fish tells us. The lesson of this parable is similar to that of the weeds growing up with the wheat, namely, that the kingdom is a mixed body of saints and sinners. There will be always a temptation to cleanse and purify. In the meantime, it is for us to learn to be tolerant, compassionate and understanding.
Today, the Lord Jesus tells us of the three parables about the kingdom of heaven and he wants to make us understand the point of our life on earth, which is to get us to Heaven at any cost! A person has to put in all effort to find this kingdom and hence his salvation. The kingdom of Heaven is merited and we must do everything possible to merit it. It is first and foremost a gift, a present, a grace offered to him who will show the initiative. He may not be in a position to pay a high price but he knows to trade for it and earn it and thus his salvation.