17th Sunday of Ordinary Time A
July 25, 2017 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Continued: The Kingdom of heaven is like….
Introduction: This Sunday we hear the last three parables of this
parable discourse, chapter 13. The parables that we will hear are those
of the treasure, the pearl and the net. The Gospel passage concludes
with some words about a person learned in the kingdom.
The first two parables belong to Matthew’s special tradition, and
with them he shifts for a moment the emphasis of the chapter. The
preceding parables have been concerned with the triumphant growth of the
Kingdom in spite of resistance, and with the necessity of patience until
the final judgment. In these two similar parables Matthew introduces
the themes of (l) overwhelming joy at the unexpected discoveries; (2)
the unparalleled value of the Kingdom of heaven; and (3) the willingness
of the finder to sacrifice all in order to possess the Kingdom.
1st parable: treasure: Here the finder is a person who happens on
the treasure accidentally. The discovery is accidental. The parable
stresses that he entered the venture with “joy” and risked everything he
owned in order to acquire the treasure which he had discovered.
Sometimes today an Egyptian village boy will decide to sell his
ancestral plot to buy a taxi. He hopes to get rich taking tourists
around to see the ancient monuments. Such decisions cause an uproar in
the village, where land is still the most important thing a peasant can
have. The common view is that any parting with one’s land is courting
disaster. Imagine Jesus’ story on the scale of the village–where no
behavior goes unnoticed or uncommented upon. The man’s action is not
trivial even though he does have the motive of the buried treasure. To
gain the field, he has had to part with the very substance and security
of his life. … The story presents a striking image of a case in
which a person is willing to really change everything about his life.
Thus it can be seen as a positive affirmation of the power of the
presence of God to transform our lives. The man responds to an
unexpected discovery. That discovery made it possible for him to launch
out beyond the socially ingrained securities of his life.
2nd parable: treasure: Here the finder is a seeker. He has
traveled in search of fine pearls. In the second parable the man’s
joy is not mentioned but he also is willing to sacrifice everything to
purchase the valuable pearl. One need not consider the joy mentioned in
the first parable secondary. Both men surrender all they possess for
the prizes they have found. This story seems to intensify the risk-
taking attitude of the previous story. The rule of God does not permit
one to “play it safe.”
Both of these parables cause us to reflect on the cost of
discipleship. Both sell all that they have to buy the field or the
pearl. What must we get rid of in order to gain the kingdom? What is
in the way of our attaining the kingdom? To think of this in economic
terms is wrong. We can’t buy the kingdom although many people think
they can buy God with promises, sacrifices, or even donations of money.
3rd parable: net: This parable stresses the final judgment. In
many ways it is a companion to the parable of the wheat and weeds. We
have the mixture of the good and bad in the kingdom. We have the
apocalyptic language, “End of the world.” Angels. The separation
of the wicked and the just, the fiery furnace and “wail and grind their teeth.”
The Passage ends with a question about the disciples understanding.
There is an unspoken comparison with the lack of understanding of the
crowds and the Jewish leaders. “Every scribe who is learned in the
reign of God is like…” This verse is important from several points of
view. First, in its immediate context, it is a kind of parable that
concludes the chapter of seven other parables. It is a parable about
making parables, a metaparable that invites the reader/hearer to enter
the parabolic process through creating new parables to add to the ones
just given. Second, the verse suggests the existence and activity of
Christian scribes in Matthew’s church. Third, the verse has rightly
been taken as the autobiography or pen portrait of the evangelist. It
would also fit Paul. “who can bring from his store both the new and the
old.” One should notice the telling order of words; contrary to natural
expectations, the “new” is placed before the “old.” Both shed light on
each other, but the defining norm is the new, the fulfillment. The
ideal is put before us to be this kind of scribe.
This metaparable seems to me to be very much at play during the
papacy of Pope Francis.