THE PARABLES OF THE BURIED TREASURE AND OF THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
(A biblical reflection on the 17th Ordinary Sunday [Year A], 26 July 2020)
Gospel Reading: Mathew 13:44-52 (short version: Matthew 13:44-46)
First Reading: 1Kings 3:5,7-12; Psalms: Psalm 119:57,72,76-77,127-130; Second Reading: Romans 8:28-30
The Scripture Text
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They said to Him, “Yes.” And He said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:44-52 RSV)
These three pithy parables and final remarks about understanding them complete Matthew’s parables discourse that comprises the whole of chapter 13. The audience is the disciples, not the crowds, who Jesus dismissed in Matthew 13:36. The “parable of the buried treasure” (Matthew 13:44) and the “parable of the pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46) probably circulated together as a pair. They offer two different ways of coming upon the Kingdom of God but end with the same message about the total response that is required to obtain it. The “parable of the net” (Matthew 13:47-48) and its explanation (Matthew 13:49-50) mirror the “parable of the weeds and the wheat” and its interpretation (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) both in wording and in theme. The final verses (Matthew 13:51-52) refer to the whole complex of parables in Matthew 13 and the disciples’ ability to understand. Due to practical reasons, such as limited space available, etc., let’s now focus on the first two parables only.
The lesson of these two parables is as true for us today, as it was for those disciples to whom Christ spoke. All Christians are called on to imitate these two wise men, and surrender all their earthly possessions if necessary in order to gain eternal life. Does the “giving all” mean that we are all expected to abandon the world and take on the religious vow of poverty, chastity and obedience? There are many who do just this. But it is not the only way, nor the normal way, to purchase the eternal treasure. Heaven is within the reach of all, who follow the ordinary vocation of life and partake of this world’s joys and pleasures within the framework of God’s commandments, but never lose sight if the goal toward which they are moving,
Keeping within the framework of God’s commandments is the difficulty, We need not have a vow of obedience, but we must obey all legitimate authority. We may possess the goods of this world, but only such goods as we lawfully and justly acquire. Nor may we withhold all of these from a fellowman who is in need. We do not have to take a vow of chastity, but yet we must be chaste, we must use the gifts and the pleasure of sex only within the limits set down by God’s wise laws.
All of this is not easy for human nature. But we are not relying on weak human nature, we have within our reach in the Church all the spiritual and supernatural aids we need. Our 21th century, it is true, is so engrossed in chasing after the earthly comforts and pleasures of the body, and so devoid of any spiritual or other-worldly outlook, that even those who know and believe that there is an eternity after death, find it hard to allow their faith and convictions to govern and direct their daily actions. Yet the evil examples of others will never justify our wrong-doing. The commandments of God are still binding, even though they are openly and flagrantly violated by individuals and whole nations today.
Remember this: we shall not be asked at the judgement, “What did your neighbor do?”, but “what did you do?” If we love the pearl of great price in the eternity of happiness God has offered to us – it will not be the fault of others. The fault will be ours and ours only. We refused to pay the price. We did not think it worth the “paltry all” which we possessed in this life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are my treasure and joy, my hope and consolation. Free me from all that would keep me from You. May I always find strength in Your word and delight in Your presence. Amen.
Jakarta, 25 July 2020 [Feast of St. James, Apostle]
A Christian Pilgrim