Our greatest treasure is found within

  • July 14, 2008

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 27 (1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52)

We are all familiar with the stories of the genie in the bottle who grants the owner three wishes. It is amusing to think of what we might ask for: piles of money, everything we have always wanted, and then, goaded by a twinge of guilt, world peace. Solomon is in a similar position, but the one granting the wishes is not a genie but God.

There is a full range of possibilities: a long life, riches and the lives of his enemies. There was many a king or leader in that day and age (and our own) who would have asked for all three and not necessarily in that order. But Solomon pleased the Lord immensely by asking for wisdom — an understanding mind — so that he could be a good and just leader. If only today’s leaders would ask God for the same gift.

An important part of wisdom is the ability to discern right and wrong. Despite what we might think, sometimes it is difficult for even a sincere person with the right intention to choose the best course of action. Understanding and an ability to choose correctly are important elements of being an effective and mature human being. But it doesn’t just drop into our lap. It must be sought, prayed for and learned. Solomon would go on to become a king renowned in both the Bible and in legend as one of the wisest men of his time. If we were presented with a similar opportunity, what would we ask for? For that matter, what would we do with a huge windfall of money? The answer will tell us a lot about ourselves and the ideals by which we guide our lives.

Paul’s dense discussion of predestination and justification has provided the fuel for many theological controversies over the centuries. In particular, people ask an obvious question: if we are predestined for a particular end, where is the human freedom? Are we merely pawns? Does it really matter what we do? Stripped down to its basics, the passage assures us that our lives have meaning in the eyes of God. We all fit into the grand plan, and although in the end it is all God’s work, we know that by our love of God we can be in harmony with the entire process. Everything that we experience — the highs and the lows, even the mistakes and tragedies — can fit in with God’s plan of redemption for each of us. Knowing this in our hearts and believing it is an antidote for the despair and meaninglessness that can constantly nip at our heels.

Jesus continues His similes and metaphors in an attempt to help His listeners understand the nature of the Kingdom of God. In these passages He focuses on its hidden nature but more importantly its all-surpassing value. It is not something that falls from the sky — and it is certainly not an easy way or shortcut. We cannot simply walk away with the treasure found in the field for it doesn’t belong to us yet. The finder has to be willing to earn the right to exercise ownership and in this story it means selling everything he had.

Likewise with the pearl — there are plenty of other pearls of fine quality, but only one worth selling everything. Selling everything is more than its literal reading. It can include the giving up of prized ideas, opinions and ways of viewing the world. We might have to sacrifice the esteem of others, our social connections and our usual way of life. In short, we have to be prepared to put everything on the table.

The Kingdom of God in this context is not a place or a thing, but a state of awareness or consciousness of God. One must be persistent and go deeper than conventional religious practice and understanding. Jesus praises the insightful and sensitive scribe — and scribes are usually criticized in the New Testament — for understanding the parable. Our traditions contain much treasure, but most of it remains buried. And the greatest treasure is found deep within us waiting to be released. Jesus urges us to look within our spiritual tradition and our own heart and soul.