17 Sunday OTA

1 Kgs 3: 5, 7-12 Rom 8: 28-30 Mt 13: 44-52

My treasure is apple pie. Little Mary listened intently in Sunday school while the teacher explained the parable of the “treasure” and “pearl” and gave a detailed description of eternal bliss in heaven. She concluded her class asking the question, “All those who are ready to go to heaven, raise your hands.” Every hand went up except one. “Why, don’t you want to go to heaven, Mary?” asked the teacher. “Well,” Mary replied, “Mom was baking apple pie when I left home!”

A poor Irish widow had a pearl of great value in her son. Because she was so poor the parish helped the widow with food and rent money. Her son had immigrated to New York and become very successful. One day the pastor asked Mrs. O’Leary if she ever heard from her son. Proudly the widow answered, “Bob writes me every week and always encloses a picture.” Thinking he’d see some family photos, the pastor asked to see the pictures. Bringing in her Bible, she showed the pastor a Bible stuffed with pictures of Benjamin Franklin. Those are $100 bills, in case you missed it! Bob had been trying to help his mother for years and the old woman had failed to realize the treasure she was given every week.

Jesus concludes a long series of parables about the reign of God in today’s gospel, by praising those wise men and women who have listened carefully, understood and responded to his message. This praise of the “wise” in today’s gospel seems to justify the choice of today’s first reading: the story of Solomon’s request for wisdom from God and for “an understanding heart” to distinguish right from wrong, so that he might govern the people properly. Yahweh was pleased and granted him a wise and discerning heart which enabled him to surpass everyone in wisdom.

In the second reading, Paul teaches that the principal agent in Christian spirituality is God and that His grace is with us through the whole process of salvation. The wisdom to perceive God’s grace is essential for those who want to follow him. This is why Paul assures Rome’s Christian community, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Such knowledge is an act of faith.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the “kingdom of heaven” to a treasure hidden in a field, to a pearl of great value and to a net thrown in the sea collecting all types of fish. These three parables illustrate the opportunity as well as the challenge of discipleship. The first and the second parables speak of the total commitment and dedication which are the ideal of every follower of Christ. What the parables really teach us is that, when one discovers Jesus and his vision of life, everything else becomes secondary. That is what St. Paul meant when he said: “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” (Philippians 3:8), and again “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 2:21). To have a personal experience of Christ and personal relationship with Him – in other words, to have made his view of life one’s own – is the most precious thing in the world.

1) We should live every moment in view of our precious goal. Most of the time, we are chasing false treasures such as money, status or pleasure. Thus, the really valuable pearl of sharing in God’s life here on earth and later in heaven is never found. Let us always remember that heaven is within the reach of all of us who try to do the will of God, following the ordinary vocations of life and enjoying this world’s joys and pleasures within the framework of God’s commandments. Let us remember that whenever we fight against discrimination, whenever we trust completely in God, whenever our selflessness conquers selfishness, whenever our love overcomes sin and our faith overcomes suffering, whenever we render humble service to others, we are doing the will of God as it is done in heaven and, hence, we are already living in the kingdom of heaven while we are still on earth.

2) A lesson in tolerance and compassionate understanding. There will be always a temptation for some who feel they are more “faithful” to separate themselves from the “weeds”/”bad fish.” But we must learn to be patient, compassionate and understanding with those who seem to fall far below the requirements of the Gospel and the Kingdom. Let us humbly admit the fact that there are only a very few of us who are not a mixture of good and evil. Let us admit as St. Paul did, “I am what I am with the grace of God.”

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