Recently, I read an amusing anecdote that I think has a lot to do with the Gospel (Matthew 13: 1-23) messages of today.
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment and said: “Because I want to find God.” The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what you wanted most of all when you were under water.” “Air!” answered the man. “Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
The three parables in today’s Gospel all have the same message but each is different in how it approaches the message. And it is that central message that each of us has to find himself or herself. The message is really a question: How much do we want God?
The first two parables using the images of hidden treasure and a pearl of great price talk of two individuals who sell everything else to possess something precious. What many do not realize is that the treasure buried in the field legally belongs to the owner of the field and therefore the person who finds it sells everything and purchases the land in order to become its owner In this parable the finder does not tell the owner of his discovery but purchases the land to make it legal – (sounds like insider trading to me!.) Nevertheless, Jesus does not pass judgment on his actions but rather the pursuit.
The second parable is slightly different. A businessman looks for fine pearls. When he finds the one he wants, he sells everything else he has in order to acquire this precious pearl. The man was on the lookout for the “pearl of great price”. He knows it must exist somewhere and he uses all his energies to find it. Both parables tell us of a person who actually goes beyond all ordinary possibilities to obtain an object of great value. This shows how valuable and precious the kingdom of heaven is. The idea obviously is that when one really discovers Jesus, his/her vision of life changes.
This was Paul’s experience as he tells the Philippian community: “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.”
This brings us to the third parable today of the net thrown into the sea and this story focuses on the ultimate judgment. Here Jesus compares the church to a fishing net which when thrown into the lake collect all sorts of fish. The net could not and does not discriminate. It was left to the fishermen to do the dividing and the separating process. While the first and second parables speak of the total commitment and dedication which are the ideal of every follower of Christ, this third parable helps to put our two feet firmly back on the ground. It reflects the same emphasis that the interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds made.
The point is that in the kingdom of heaven there will be accountability. This parable reminds us that the Church and even the Kingdom in the process of its evolution is full of all kinds of people. Our Church is a Church of saints and sinners, the good and the bad. It’s a very simple equation. Those who have heard the teachings of Jesus and put them into practice will enter the kingdom of heaven and those who do not will be excluded. The judgment is not arbitrary and rests ultimately on the response of the one who has heard the message of Jesus.
This balancing act is the task of each one of us who have been instructed in the kingdom of heaven. Judgment is for later. Right now, it is for us to use the time given to us to go in search of the treasure and the pearl of great price, of the gift to be able to identify, with Jesus, the really true, the good and the beautiful, and to help others too in the same search. So once again, as we should do, we need to engage in some self-reflection and some thoughts turned inward. Are we in search of Jesus Christ? Do we hold the gift of Jesus in our lives as the most important thing we have? What would we do if we are confronted with the option of giving up all we have to obtain eternal life with Christ? How much of our daily life is centered on Jesus Christ? Is He really the focus of our thoughts and actions each day? Can we tell of each other’s love of Christ in our interactions? Do we visibly show that? When we extend an arm to help one another, is it the arm of Christ or the arm of obligation? Can we allow our eyes to be the true reflection of our so? When we say “Good Morning” or “Hello”, is it genuine or obligatory?
Shortly, we will approach the Eucharistic table to celebrate a sacrificial event. We express our faith in Jesus who is our pearl of great price. Jesus is worth everything to us and allowing ourselves to be united to him in communion is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Let’s not forget those words – united to him in communion. What do we do with that when we leave? How much of our life, this day, honors this incredible act? We should be using that moment of unity with him as a stepping stone to build His kingdom searching relentlessly and seeking his presence in everything we do. The reward is something precious and something which cannot be lost at any time .Yes, we are called to face obstacles but we are called to be steadfast in the ways in which we overcome those challenges and to stay focused on Christ. Yes, living a Christian life in today’s world can be difficult at times. I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel as if I am wearing a hair sheet. That shirt scratches me and reminds me that my actions and my words call me to a higher standard of life and to a higher vision. The continual seeking of God in our lives and guiding our actions every day does not come easily to us. It is not second nature. It is a deliberate, ongoing process that holds, as its price the gift of eternal life. Finally, it is the choice which God has made for us as he has chosen us and formed us in his own image and has planned a plan for us. We know what the answer to his message should be. Pray God that we can respond to the divine call given to us and live this kingdom to the full.