Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the beginning of the Gospel, in a parable, Jesus introduced a man who found a treasure buried in a field. Do you wonder what the man was even doing in the field that allowed him to find it when others hadn’t. One commentator suggested he was probably working the field, he was probably plowing. And he was apparently more diligent than others. Once again I was given another unpleasant reminder of my youth. I didn’t much like ploughing, or cultivating the garden. We had a tool that was a smaller version of what one sees in old pictures: someone is walking behind the hand held plow being pulled by a horse. We didn’t have a horse. And I never found a buried treasure, only rocks and roots.
This is the third Sunday in a row on which Jesus tells kingdom parables. The two in the shorter version of the Gospel today both speak of the kingdom as something to be valued. Both address the sacrifice made in order to acquire the kingdom. And both infer that those who possess the kingdom are expecting to profit from it.
This might be a good point to step back and look at the meaning of the kingdom overall. The New Testament speaks of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. These are essentially interchangeable terms. We don’t have much lived experience with earthly kings and kingdoms. They are pretty much a matter of history or mythical tales. Jesus’ own people, the Jewish people, our spiritual ancestors did experience kings. Many were not so good. But a true king was to be God’s instrument. And a good king not only ruled, not only had authority, he also took care of the people. He assured their protection and some measure of prosperity. And in their longing for a Messiah, the Jewish people imagined an idyllic perfection of King David of their past.
So, what is this kingdom of heaven, this kingdom of God. There are three elements of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom Jesus proclaimed and made present.
(1)At the heart of the kingdom is the person of Jesus Christ. Being in God’s kingdom is about being in relationship with Jesus Christ. (2)Based on Jesus’ own words we also know the kingdom as something interior. Being in God’s kingdom is not merely a relationship with someone who exists outside or even alongside us. Our relationship with Jesus Christ has an intense interior dimension which we identify as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. (3)God’s kingdom is made visible through the Church. The Church makes visible the communion that Jesus Christ established on this earth. It is a communion of saints journeying in this world toward the perfection of communion with God and one another in heaven.
Living in God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, begins on this earth, with these earthly bodies. It is like no other kingdom. Our king, our ruler, is God our Creator, come into the world to give us new life in spite of our sin. Our king, our ruler, plants His Holy Spirit within us as we become adopted children of God, in baptism. No earthly king imparts His life to His subjects and transforms them inside and out.
When we come to grips with what it really means to be in the kingdom of God we take on the attitude of stewards. The idea of possession or ownership is replaced with a sense of entrustment from God. We come to realize that all that we are and all that we have ultimately belongs to God. He has personally and intentionally created us and endowed us with all of our natural and spiritual gifts. We come to realize that God has invested Himself in us, quite literally. Then, as stewards of the gifts of God, we act in gratitude and responsibility.
The person who comes to recognize, receive, claim their membership in God’s kingdom is going to be marked as a steward. The one who acknowledges their place in God’s kingdom recognizes the absolute generosity of the God who rules. That one recognizes that everything they have is a gift from God and feeling grateful and responsible they want to make use of God’s gift to build up His kingdom on earth. The steward realizes that being made by a personal God, in His image, we are agents or sparks or manifestations of that personal God in all we do. The steward realizes that grateful and responsible development and use of God’s gift not only gives praise and glory to God, it opens us to greater blessings, more protection and prosperity from our king, the ruler of our hearts and minds. The opportunity to be God’s personal stewards is the treasure we should value, the treasure for which we are willing to sacrifice, the treasure from which we profit.
In the first reading Solomon chose wisdom, the ability to judge as God judges, when asked what he wanted. He was commended for asking for such a gift. We are gifted with life in God’s kingdom, and wisdom is only one of the many gifts made available to us. In the Gospel parables the kingdom, represented by the valuable treasure and pearl, were both discovered and sought. For many of us our place in the kingdom was simply given to us, through our parents. But even if we discovered or sought our place in God’s kingdom, we must continually choose and re-choose to see ourselves as belonging to God in such a rich and personal way. We are surrounded by so many people, by a culture, which does not have personal relationship with God as the constant reference point of every choice.
Some surveys have indicated that even faithful, practicing Christians and Catholics may fall short in recognizing the personal nature of their relationship to God. We should not be afraid to recognize that, or acknowledge that, or to do something about that. That could be something as simple as the daily request: “Jesus, Father, Holy Spirit, my treasure, my beautiful personal, help me know you in deeper and more pearl way.”