July 26, 2023 at 12:20 a.m.
Gifts of great value
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” —
Probably most of us, if not all of us, love to find a bargain when we go shopping. Then there is also the possibility, as we root through items at a garage sale, of discovering something really great at a knockdown price. When I was back in England last year, I happened to see an episode of the “Antiques Roadshow” (the English version, of course!). A man brought in a picture that he had paid the equivalent of around $150 for a few years before and it was valued on the show at $550,000-600,000. We have all seen that look that is a mixture of surprise, amazement and delight, followed by a look of “what on earth should I do next?"
Jesus uses a first-century equivalent of all this, as he continues his series of parables that describe the Kingdom of Heaven. Both our parables are found only in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Our Lord speaks of someone discovering a treasure hidden in a field, or of a merchant discovering a pearl of great price. The reaction is the same: to go off and sell everything to obtain this once-in-a-lifetime bargain. This, Jesus teaches us, is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and how it should also be for us: a treasure beyond price and the most amazing and surprising gift.
It is really worth exploring these two parables a little bit more to get to the heart of what Jesus is telling us. First of all, do we really search for the Kingdom like that person who must have been digging in the field in the first place, or how else would they have discovered the treasure? In the same way, we can imagine the merchant spending days, weeks, even years looking for that pearl of great price before he actually found it. Searching is a very human thing and searching for God is especially human. In fact, God made us to search for Him! To slightly misquote St. Augustine, our human soul and our heart are indeed restless until they find their rest in God.
Jesus asks us that we continue to seek him out and to search for him, just as he does the same for us. But, we may ask, have we not already found Jesus or, perhaps better put, has he not already found us? The answer is most certainly yes. Of course we can say, like the disciples on the shore of the Sea Galilee “we have found the Lord.” However, as with any relationship, it cannot become static or stale, or just a one-off experience. The search must go on. Furthermore, God’s love for us is like a gift, a treasure or a pearl of great price; but if that gift is just hidden away or taken for granted, or not used, what use is it then? And even if we have found such great gifts, we can always continue our search for more.
Thinking about this ongoing search and of the gift beyond price that is God’s Kingdom, on July 27 I will celebrate the 38th anniversary of my ordination as a priest. This is a great gift and something that I do not earn, nor deserve, nor merit and it is always important to remember Jesus’ words, “you did not choose me, I chose you.” But there is the ever-present danger of taking that gift of priesthood for granted, or of cruising along on autopilot. The same could be said for the gift of faith that we all share, or the gift of prayer, or the gift of the Mass, or the gift of our spouse, or of our children, or of our friends. Our parable in the Gospel reminds us that we have indeed received many gifts and treasures “of great price,” but that we need to keep on growing and searching in our relationship with the Lord. What is more, these gifts and treasures are never just for us, rather they must also be used to further the Kingdom of Heaven.
Each and every day, let us begin the day with three resolutions and actions. First, let us recognize and then give thanks to God for the gifts that he has given us: that treasure in the field or the pearl of great price. Secondly, let us be active and intentional in searching for the presence of the Kingdom in the daily encounters and events and people that will come our way during the day. Thirdly, as disciples, let us be proactive in seeking ways during the day ahead to use the treasures and gifts God has given us to be disciple-makers, that is to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to others.