July 24, 2011
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
This Sunday's passage contains the last three of the set of seven parables that Matthew placed in the center of his gospel. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price. When its great value is recognized, one gladly does all that is necessary to obtain it. The kingdom of heaven is also like a net that collects all sorts of fish. Just as the useless fish are eventually thrown away, at the end of the age the wicked will be rejected. The last parable is a sober reminder that even though Jesus is the presence of divine wisdom, many take offense at him, and because of their lack of faith are lost.
Jesus then expresses concern that the disciples understand the parables because they like Jesus must instruct others in the mystery of the kingdom.
Three aspects of God's kingdom are highlighted in these parables: the necessity of recognizing its ultimate value, the necessity of responding with total commitment upon recognition of its presence, and the possibility of rejecting the gift of eternal life that it brings.
Matthew in narrating events of Jesus' life provides good life-illustrations of today's parables that may help us hear them in a personal way.
A rich young man approached Jesus and asked what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus sensed the possibility that this young man may have been keeping all the commandments except the first, the source of all the others: ",,. you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Dt 6:5). He replied: " . . . go, sell what you have and give to the poor . . . then come, follow me." When the young man heard this reply to his question, he went away sad, for he had many possessions" (Mt 19:16-22).
In contrast, Matthew also tells us of two blind men who recognized Jesus as the "pearl of great price" they were seeking. They cried out to him in their poverty. Moved with pity, Jesus gave them sight, and they followed him (Mt 20:29-34). In Mk 10:46-52 the contrast with the sighted-yet-blind rich man is even more dramatically drawn).
The good news for us is that the Risen Lord is present in our celebration of the Eucharist not only to instruct us about the kingdom of heaven, but also to give us his Spirit. In the Spirit, through faith, we receive sight to recognize the presence of the kingdom in our world, and we receive courage to commit ourselves totally to God's reign with single-minded desire.
In his Rule for Monasteries, Saint Benedict (one of those scribes who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven) gives us two sayings to help us keep alive in our hearts the meaning of this Sunday's liturgy. From the Prologue: "If today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 95:8), and adapted from chapter 72: "Prefer nothing whatever to Christ."
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB