Homily for the17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 29, 1990
Matt 13: 44-52
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field” (Matt 13: 44).
I’d like to focus on the finders’ actions. I suppose that in the 1st parable the fellow is a tenant farmer. Both the farmer and the merchant act quickly and decisively. They’ve found something that they believe they must secure for themselves at once, lest anyone else make the same discovery and beat them to the prize.
Part of their decisiveness involves risk. The farmer and the merchant both sell all their other valuables in order to raise the necessary cash. The farmer runs the risk of an eventual lawsuit from the previous owner of the field—in Palestinian village life his sudden wealth would be no secret; while the merchant risks a collapse in the pearl market—and there were no government bailouts in Jesus’ time.
Finally, the farmer experiences joy in his find. We may assume that the merchant does too. Who wouldn’t be happy to have to have sudden wealth land in his lap? The farmer’s discovery promises him and his family security for the future and a place in society.
Jesus, of course, uses parables to make a point about God’s kingdom. If his point is, indeed, what the finders do, his point would urge decisive action, risk, and joy.
There’s a story about the school for apprentice devils. One day Satan visited in order to see how their training was coming along. He asked them how they planned to lure people to damnation. The 1st novice said, “I’ll tell them there’s no God.” “That won’t do,” Satan answered. “In their hearts they know it’s not true.” “I’ll tell them there’s no hell,” said the 2d demon. “That won’t do either,” replied the master. “They experience plenty of hell already on earth.” Said the 3d apprentice: “I’ll tell then there’s no hurry.” “Excellent!” exclaimed Satan. “You’ll ruin many souls that way.”
The kingdom of heaven, the life given us by Jesus, is a treasure, brothers and sisters. If we pussy-foot around it, we may lose it entirely. We must commit ourselves to Jesus Christ; we must commit ourselves decisively, as soon as we recognize the treasure. We must rate every person in our lives, every object, and every part of our lives in the light of the Gospel. Jesus tells us, “People don’t light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it’s set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:15). If there’s anything in our lives we cling to, any person, any habits, any lifestyle, any vice, any material idol that we love more than Jesus, than we’re not ready to sell everything we have in order to secure our treasure, and we risk one day running out of time and into ruination.
Is there risk in committing ourselves decisively to God’s kingdom? Without a doubt. 1st, we risk the unknown. Most of you have taken such risks before with no guarantee of the outcome: committing yourself to a spouse, purchasing a home, choosing a college or a career. When we say yes to God we take what the 19th-century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard called a leap of faith and trust that God will grab hold of us. We don’t know the future; we don’t have an absolute intellectual and emotional certainty that there is a personal God, a heaven, eternal life. We have no idea what demands God’s love will make on us, just as we have none about married life, mortgages, college education, or career before we leap into them. So it’s a risk to live totally for the unseen God, to put our hope in the crucified carpenter of Nazareth.
2d, we risk public opinion. At the Last Supper, Jesus warned his friends: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me 1st. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember that the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:18-20).
Yet finding the kingdom and acting decisively to enter it are causes of joy. The word “gospel” means “good news.” It is good news that God lets us find him, that he lets us know his love thru Jesus, that he claims us as his own daughters and sons in Jesus, that he forgives our sins and gives us life. Good news makes us happy. The happiest people on earth have been the saints, for they knew the secret of joy: wholehearted commitment to God.
St. Teresa of Avila is supposed to have said, “A sad saint is a sorry saint.” St. Therese the Little Flower writes in her autobiography, “Since I have left off thinking of myself, I live the happiest life possible.” St. Philip Neri told the young people of Rome who gathered around him, “Run, jump, and shout as much as you like, so long as you don’t sin”—a teaching which St. John Bosco also adopted. St. Thomas More cracked jokes with the executioners—and also threw a straight line to one of them: “Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may meet merrily in heaven.”
It’s been said that Don Bosco had an 11th commandment in his house: “to serve the Lord in gladness,” which is a line from Ps 100 (v. 2). There’s a scene in the Life of Dominic Savio written by DB that brings that line to life (ch. 18: Camillo Gavio). Dominic lived what he preached, and the Church verified his holiness by canonizing him in 1954, 20 years after DB’s own canonization.
The saints rejoiced in discovering the hidden treasure of Jesus. They gambled everything to attain it, as our Founding Fathers gambled their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the glorious ideal of freedom. The very same hidden treasure, the joy of the heavenly kingdom, is revealed to us in the teaching of Jesus. If we are wise, we know how to secure it.