As was the case last Sunday, today’s Gospel presents 3 parables about the Kingdom of heaven. “Kingdom of heaven” refers to the “Kingdom of God”.Although the Kingdom of God will achieve its complete fulfillment in heaven, in Matthew’s Gospel, the Kingdom of heaven refers to the reign of God on this earth, in the here and now.
The 1st parable is about the treasure hidden in a field. Since banks did not exist at the time of Jesus, a common practice was to bury valuables in the ground. Due to unforeseen circumstances (such as war, forced migration or death), it would have been possible for someone to leave something of great value behind. If someone else comes across this treasure, Jewish law permitted the finder to keep it. There was no legal obligation to find the original owner.
In this parable, the man stumbles upon the treasure, but the field where it is hidden does not belong to him. His desire to possess the treasure is so strong that he takes immediate action to acquire it: he hides it again, leaves, sells everything he has, takes all that money and buys the field.
The point of the parable is that developing a relationship with God is the most precious thing in life. Everything else is secondary. Therefore, we ought to spare no effort in developing this relationship. The reign of God on this earth exists first and foremost in each of our hearts.
Practically speaking, this means we give every detail of our life over to God: family life, professional life, or recreational life. Each of us is invited to ask these questions: How dedicated am I to my relationship with God? Is God involved in every aspect of my daily living? Do I consider my relationship with God as a treasure in my life?
The 2nd parable is similar. A merchant is actively searching for fine pearls. Upon finding the pearl of great price, he uses all his energies to get it. He leaves, sells everything he owns (business and personal assets), takes all that money and buys the pearl.
The pearl of great price represents the Gospel. The point of the parable is that the Gospel is to be the priority of our lives. The key message of the Gospel is love of God and love of neighbor. Therefore, nothing can be more important. All our energies ought to be directed to this priority. Each of us is invited to ask this question: How passionate is my commitment to the values of the Gospel? Is the Gospel a treasure beyond all price in my life?
Pope Francis made these comments about these 2 parables: “The treasure is the Kingdom of God, found through the person of Jesus Christ, and to obtain it, our hearts must burn with the desire to seek it and find it out. He is the hidden treasure; he is the pearl of great value. He is the fundamental discovery, which can make a decisive turning point in our lives, filling it with meaning.”
The 3rd parable is about the net thrown into the sea that collected fish of every kind. All the fish are hauled ashore. Then, the fish is sorted. The good fish is kept; the bad or the rotten fish is thrown out.
The good fish represent goodness and righteousness; the bad fish represent sin and evil. This parable reminds me of a passage from Romans: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. The point of Romans is similar to the point Fr. Raymond spoke about in discussing parable from last Sunday’s Gospel about the wheat and the weeds.
The Kingdom of God is alive in our hearts when our lives produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Church has traditionally taught that there are 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit. In addition to goodness, peace and joy, there is love, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. Whenever our thoughts, words and actions show forth these 12 fruits, we are like the good fish or the wheat. Whenever we do the opposite; whenever we lack compassion towards the plight of others rather than showing kindness; whenever we promote division and conflict rather than work for peace; whenever we harbor lingering resentments rather than showing love, we are like the weeds and the rotten fish.
The invitation today is to take an honest inventory of our lives. Each of us is a mixture of a saint and a sinner. First, let us consider: Where do I find evidence of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit in my life? We celebrate those areas and thank God for the presence of his grace in those areas of our lives. Second, let us consider: What thoughts, words and actions are the weeds or rotten fish in my life? What attachments, attitudes or pleasures need to be plucked out like weeds or thrown out like rotten fish? We ask for God’s divine assistance in those areas. In particular, through the food that is served at this table, God’s power and strength are available to help us make the necessary changes so that the reign of God can thrive inside us.
As Fr. Raymond indicated last week, let’s do all this before it’s too late. Both today’s Gospel and last Sunday’s Gospel indicate that, just as the weeds were separated from the wheat, and just as the bad fish was sorted from the good fish, there will be a separation, a sorting, a judgement at the end of time. All of us will have to answer for our actions when the fulfillment of the Kingdom of heaven arrives.
As our Eucharist continues, let us be like Solomon in the 1st Reading. Let us ask God for the gifts of wisdom and discernment so that we may seek the Kingdom of God before all else and above all else.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti July 26, 2020.