1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52
Anecdote: The Pink Diamond of Tanzania Dr. Williamson was a geologist doing some archeological excavation work in Tanzania. One day he found himself driving in a deserted area, slipping and sliding along a rain-soaked road. Suddenly his four-wheel drive vehicle sank up to its axles in the mud and got stuck. Pulling out his shovel, Dr. Williamson began the unpleasant task of digging the car out of a mud hole. He had been at it for a while when his shovel uncovered something strange. It was a pinkish stone of some sort. Being a geologist and naturally curious about rock formations, he picked it up and wiped away the mud. The more mud he removed, the more excited he became, and he could hardly believe what he saw. When the stone was finally clean, Dr. Williamson was beside himself with joy. He had discovered the diamond which became known as the famous Pink Diamond of Tanzania and is now set in the royal scepter of Great Britain. In today’s two parables, Jesus tells of two other men who unexpectedly discovered treasures
Introduction: Today’s readings teach us that accepting Jesus as our God and Savior and sacrificing everything in life to do the will of God are equivalent to discovering and possessing the most valuable treasure or the pearl of great price. In other words, keeping a personal relationship with Christ and sharing his view of life are the most beautiful, the most precious things in the world.
Scripture lessons: The first reading tells us how the young King Solomon opted for the great treasure of accepting God to rule his life and doing God’s will. That is why he requested God for “an understanding heart” to distinguish right from wrong, so that he might govern the people properly. Yahweh was pleased with his request and granted him a wise and discerning heart which enabled him to surpass everyone in wisdom. In the second reading, Paul teaches that the wisdom to perceive God's grace is essential for those who want to follow Him and to do His will, thus remaining in His kingdom. He assures Rome’s Christian community that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” In the Gospel, Jesus teaches that God’s Kingdom (the rule of God in us, accepting Jesus as our God and Savior and putting our Faith in him, doing His will), is something of extraordinary value, like a hidden treasure or costly pearl, and that its possession calls for total commitment. The Kingdom of God is God’s reign in our hearts, in our lives, in our homes, in our society, and in our world. Only those who develop a searching mind and are willing to give up everything for the great treasure of God’s Kingdom will be rewarded. Through the first and second parables of the treasure and pearl Jesus teaches us identifying God’s will with His help and living according to the Gospel are the most precious and worthwhile things in life. Through Jesus and his Gospel we come to know and understand what the real meaning of life is and what are the most important things in life which would secure our eternal salvation.
The first reading explained (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12): In the Old Testament, dreams were the accepted means of Divine communication, especially for rulers seeking God's guidance. In our first reading, God appears to young king Solomon with an undeserved, generous offer: "Ask something of Me and I will give it to you.” The ancient Semitic belief was that people think with their hearts and feel with their kidneys. The latter were considered the source of our emotions and the former, the source of our thoughts and insights. Thus, when Solomon says, “Give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people and to distinguish right from wrong,” he’s simply requesting a mind capable of seeing what others overlook. He asks for an understanding heart so that he will be able to deal well with people, act compassionately and discern right from wrong. He selflessly asks for "a heart with skill to listen" - sensitivity in understanding his subjects' needs, skillful decision-making – in order to build a just society. Wisdom gives us insight into what is truly important in life, an awareness of the meaning and purpose of living, of what really matters. Wisdom is an understanding of where our real well-being and happiness lie. Wisdom is indeed the “pearl of great price," that Jesus speaks of. While Solomon discerns and follows the right way, he is a model and a challenge for us. His request here invites us to cultivate his prayer for a heart and mind attuned to God's word and docile to His desires. Prayer means asking for what God wants to give, what makes us better able to do his will of loving service to others. In this reading, Solomon recognizes two things: i) wisdom ultimately comes from God and ii) with wisdom, all other blessings will flow. Using the language we find in today’s parables, we could say that Solomon asked for a “treasure” or a “pearl of great price.” And he got it. The reading teaches that when we fulfill our duties as God would want us to do, we are then in His presence and on the threshold of the Kingdom.
The second reading explained (Romans 8:28-30): In this lesson from the Epistle to the Romans, there are two important statements: i) "All things work for good for those who love God," and ii) "and those He predestined He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified." The second statement simply means that God is calling people through the stages of spiritual growth needed for enjoying eternity with Him: we are predestined, called, justified and glorified. When Paul speaks about those whom God has predestined, he doesn’t mean that God chooses some to be saved and others to be lost. God’s plan is for all to be saved. This means it is God’s active will that all be saved, but God’s passive will permits individuals to accept or reject God’s salvation. In other words, God’s original intention (and still existing desire) is for all mankind to be with Him in heaven; but only those who fulfill what is asked of them will reach the throne of God. The first statement means that it is the “Kingdom of Heaven” when all things somehow work together for good for those who love God. It’s the “Kingdom of God” when we know that there is absolutely nothing in this world or out of it that can separate us from the love of Christ. If we are following in the footsteps of Christ then they will head us to the Kingdom of the Father. The Kingdom of God is a treasure worth selling all that we have in order to possess. This treasure is of such great value that anything else we may own pales by comparison. It would be easy to give up everything else in order to have the Kingdom of God, and, unlike the treasure hidden in the field, the love of Christ is a treasure everyone is invited to possess.
Exegetical notes on the gospel: What is the “Kingdom of Heaven” like? Jesus continues his teaching on the “Kingdom of Heaven” using little stories based on the experiences of rural Galileans. Like Jesus’ mini-stories of the mustard seed and the leaven, those of the treasure and the pearl form a pair of His “Kingdom parables.” Jesus tells us that true wisdom involves recognizing a pearl of great price and being willing to sacrifice all to purchase it. The Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is “a society on earth where God's will is as perfectly done as it is in Heaven.” By “Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus is referring to a triple reality: a) a group of people sharing the Divine life of sanctifying grace and friendship with God by doing His will, b) participation in God’s life through the Eucharistic celebration in the Church and c) eternal bliss in Heaven. This triple reality is worth more than anything else in our lives. 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. The "Kingdom of Heaven," synonymous in these parables with the "Kingdom of God,” is hidden, but it is of surpassing value. The parable of the pearl (45-46) makes the point that the sacrifice of everything must be made for this one thing of immense value. Those who have not sacrificed everything for it will not have this treasure and will come to know how much they have lost.
The parable of the treasure hunter: Frequent battles and foreign invasions encouraged the people of Palestine to bury their treasures like money and jewelry in their fields. For example, the great religious treasure – the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” discovered in the caves at Qumran in 1947 – was hidden there over 2,000 years ago. Sometimes unclaimed and forgotten, the hidden treasures awaited some lucky finder. Jesus tells the story of one such lucky treasure-finder who sold everything he had in order to get ownership of the field. According to the Palestinian laws of that time, the mere finding of buried treasure did not entitle the finder to possession unless he also owned the property in which it was found. In the parable of the treasure in the field and in the parable of the merchant who sought fine pearls, we see the image of one who recognizes the value of the kingdom of God and gives everything to possess it. Matthew, a tax-collector, might have experienced something like this when he discovered the eternal value of the kingdom preached by Jesus of Nazareth. When he discovered Jesus and his vision of life everything else became secondary. Having a personal relationship with Christ and to have made his view of life one's own, is the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world. But most of the time, we are chasing false treasures like money, social status and pleasure. Jesus our true treasure may come tor lives unexpectedly through some daily experience as he did with Mathew.
The parable of the pearl hunter: A well-to-do merchant on the lookout for quality pearls finds a very precious pearl ("pearl of great price"), and he immediately "sells everything" to buy it. In our day, pearls have lost much of their value. Firms have learned to culture them in vast pearl beds and even to make them artificially. However, in Biblical times, the pearl was probably the costliest and most sought-after gem. Jesus wants us to know that the Kingdom of God is worth all we have. He has come to offer us God's Kingdom, a unique pearl of the greatest price. The genuine disciples are those who respond to this opportunity with joy and selfless commitment, eagerly giving top priority to life in the Kingdom by doing God’s will, whatever it may be. This parable teaches us that, although we are baptized Christians, we still need to pursue the true and full meaning of the Gospel which can escape us for many years. We always need to understand more, to love more, and to serve more. The first and second parables also remind us that the most precious things in life are to know God and to live according to the Gospel.
The parable of the fishing net: In Palestine there were two main ways of fishing. The first was with the casting-net, which required a keen eye and great skill in throwing the net at the correct moment. The second was with a drag-net or seine, as it is sometimes called. Galilean seine-nets were tied to two boats and drawn through the water. The catch was sorted only afterwards, with edible or kosher fish going to market and the unacceptable fish being thrown away. Just as a drag net collects good and bad fish indiscriminately, so the Church is a mixture of all kinds of people, good and bad, useless and useful, saints and sinners. Like the wheat and weeds parable, this parable is a warning against premature judgment, but also a warning which tells us judgment will take place. This parable encourages the Church to adopt an open approach to evangelism, by accepting "the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame" (Luke 14:21) and by leading them to the treasure and the pearl of great price. It instructs us to be tolerant, compassionate and understanding of those who seem to fall far below the requirements of the Gospel and the Kingdom. The parable also teaches that a time of separation will come when the good and the bad will be sent to their respective destinies. This parable pictures that separation as happening in the final judgment. This parable is thus a counterpart to the parable of the weeds and the wheat.
The teaching: The 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.
The concluding parable or simile. Jesus concludes his parables by advising the listeners to imitate wise scribes (Jewish scholars -- the experts in the Law and/or Scriptures). Hence, a scholar need not give up his scholarship when he becomes a Christian; rather he should use it for Christ. A businessman need not give up his business; rather he should run it as a Christian would. Christians are also expected to be like scholars who know how to value both the old and the new. In this paragraph, Jesus refers to those, who like Matthew himself, now serve as the scribe trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new: stories and sayings that date back to the historical Jesus, combined with his own arrangement of this material to apply the Gospel to new believers. This third and concluding parable teaches that Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of heaven does not replace the Jewish tradition; it interprets it in a different light. Jesus is not replacing what we call the Old Testament with the New Testament. He is combining the best of the Hebrew Scriptures with the New Way, the Kingdom of God. The wise one, the scribe of the Kingdom, therefore, knows how to use what is old and what is new.
Life messages: 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. Often we are locked into regrets over the past, or focused too much on the future. As a result, the enriching present passes us by, and the treasure is never discovered. Thus, the really valuable pearl of sharing in God’s life through Jesus 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. Right now, it is for us to use the time given to us to go in search of the pearl of great price and to help others in their search. We are challenged to search and discern where the Lord is calling us so that we may know what path to take. 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. The pearl of great price in this life is also found in our human relationships: the pearl of a happy family, good friends and people who love and accept you, even if none of them is perfect because we can lose through departure, falling out and through death.
2) We need to take all precautions to keep our greatest treasure safe: We will be able to keep our treasure of personal relationship to Jesus by accepting him every day as our God and Savior, by allowing him to have total control over our lives by doing his will, by asking for the daily strengthening and guidance of his Holy Spirit, by talking to him daily in prayer, by listening to him by meditative reading of the Bible, by getting reconciled to him and others every day asking pardon and forgiveness for our sins, by offering our lives on the altar during the Holy Mass and by nourishing our souls receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.
3) A lesson in tolerance and compassionate understanding. 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 (good and rotten fish). There will be always a temptation for those who feel they are more "faithful" to separate themselves from the “weeds”/”bad fish.” But Jesus reminds us that the final judgment resulting in reward or punishment is God’s work. Thus, 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.” (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil)