7-30-2017 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jul 31, 2017
17th Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Our short Gospel today gives us two parables. One speaks of a "treasure." And one speaks of a "pearl." Both words are evocative, expansive, pleasing, mysterious—like the Kingdom itself, they "tickle our minds," as all parables do.
1) When we think of a treasure, we perhaps think of Robert Louis Stevenson and Treasure Island, pieces of eight, Long John Silver. Or "treasure maps" that we used to draw as kids. 2) When we think of pearls, we think of something very precious, very rare, very beautiful, and very expensive. Or we might think of Vermeer’s painting—Woman with a Pearl Necklace—that I just saw in Dublin.
All of these thoughts are typical of parables: they lead us in many directions. And that’s good. Jesus preached in parables to engage his audience—and sometimes to reveal as much as to hide.
In both of our parables today—the treasure and the pearl—someone is willing to give up everything to possess them. So what is Jesus telling us? To help us understand the Gospel, let’s look back, to the first reading, about King Solomon. Like the treasure and the pearl, this reading tells us something about a priceless gift.
Solomon was King David’s son. When he comes to the throne—and enormous power and wealth—he is a young man, an immature king. So he offers this prayer: "O Lord, I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. . . . Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong." Solomon could have asked for anything: power, pleasure, a long life. But Solomon’s instincts are correct: unless there is "right relationship" with God—unless there is wisdom, an understanding of good and evil—his power and wealth are dangerous. When power and wealth are not used wisely, they can turn on you and destroy you.
Haven’t we seen this in so many young people who come to money and prestige at an early age. Think of the 1) young pop star who has a hit song, or 2) the college kid who is offered a contract in the NFL, or 3) the young stock broker who strikes it rich, or 4) the founder of a startup company that really takes off, or 5) the young politician who lets power and pleasure go to his head. Without "right relationship" with God (the treasure and the pearl), grounded in wisdom, possessions and power will corrupt —and even destroy.
St. Paul picks up this theme in our second reading, from Romans: "All things work for good for those who love God." You might be a little skeptical of this. We all know people who love God but have bad things happen to them. But the reading invites us to go a little deeper. I might paraphrase it this way: love God first—be in right relationship—and all things—no matter what happens—will work for good. When we love God, and follow his ways, we look at life differently—we see a bigger picture, we see "with the wisdom of Solomon." And that helps us get through any challenge—the good and the bad—that we face each day.
So back to the Gospel. The Kingdom is like a treasure. The Kingdom is like a pearl. When we find this treasure and this pearl, we willingly and joyfully give up everything in order to possess them.
So what is this treasure? And what is this pearl? Well, we saw it in the other two readings: right relationship, to live in harmony with God and our brothers and sisters. It is the wisdom to let go of power, and possessions, and self-gratification. It is living the Kingdom—self-giving love—and all else will fall into place.
"All things work for good for those who love God."