17th Sunday Ord. Time – 26th July 2020 — Gospel: Mt 13,44-52
The value of being part of the kingdom
Today’s parables offer a counter-image to the destructive force of COVID-19 that is invisible to the eye, yet can grow rapidly and exponentially consuming our attention and resources of individuals, communities, nations and the world. But the parables describing the kingdom of heaven are also invisible to the eye and grow exponentially, yet offer us sustenance, a treasure worthy of all our attention and resources.
The three parables represent diverse socio-economic settings: a fortune seeker, a merchant, and a commercial fisherman. These individuals are easily recognized in our world today. The ordinariness of the tasks invites us to see signs of the kingdom of heaven in our day-to-day lives and to recognize it emerging in our very midst. They emphasize the cost of discipleship and the reward for righteous living.
The first two parables (13,44-46) point to discovering something of great value. In both, the element of hiddenness and the smallness of the present form of the kingdom continue. But new emphases emerge in the interplay of searching, finding, celebrating and selling all in order to possess something of great value. The discoveries disrupt normal daily life and priorities; they require risk and sacrifice. The treasure and pearl possess the finders and shape their lives. The power of that which has been found, namely the kingdom of heaven, is worth everything.
The parable of the treasure hidden in the field hearkens back to “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6,19-20). It also anticipates Jesus’ words to the rich man “If you wish to be perfect go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mt 19,21). Reading together the above verses with the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, we are reminded that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6,21; cfr 12,35). This is almost too tangible for comfortable living, Yet God challenges our material excess acquired for self-serving purposes. The discovered and claimed treasure in this parable also anticipates the scribe’s treasure, that cannot be kept secret (13,52).
Parable of the pearl moves us in a different direction. In Mt 7,6 Jesus cautions the disciples, “do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” The swine may be a reference to the Romans; in any case, it is an insulting reference to those who oppose the kingdom. Here we are reminded that the priceless kingdom of heaven will not be welcomed by everyone.
Parable of the net of fish (13,47-52) echoes an eschatological emphasis on the division of judgement evident in the parable of the weeds (13,24-30). It turns from farming and trading to fishing to depict the future establishment of God’s reign and its victory over evil. The scope of God’s empire is universal and communitarian (“fish of every kind”). Judgment is inevitable at the end of the age, even though the evil and the righteous coexist up to this point. The evil will perish, but for the righteous God’s will be accomplished in the end.