July 24, 2011 - Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus gives us four images today. The first image, of the treasure in the field, teaches us that we are getting a very good deal on the Kingdom of Heaven. The image is so wonderful because it appeals to our natural greed. We want to find a Picasso at a rummage sale for $5. We want everything, so long as we do not have to pay for it. What Jesus is describing here is called insider trading. It is why Martha Stewart went to prison. It is a serious crime. It is okay though; we are allowed to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. God wants us to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. Infinite treasure can be had for the price of a field. Is it too good to be true? No, it is too good to be false.

The secret to insider trading is not to haggle on the price of the field. Whatever the owner wants to charge, pay it. Do not be pennywise and dollar-foolish. Let us say that the asking price for this field is going to Mass 60 times a year, fasting twice a year and not eating meat on Fridays, confessing your sins, caring for the poor and the Church, loving your neighbor, loving God, and being humble. Does that sound expensive? There is an infinite treasure buried in the field; pay the asking price.

Sometimes people consider the next image as a repetition of the first. On the contrary, it is the opposite. Jesus does not say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl. He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant. What is the pearl then? You. Me. Each one of us. From our perspective, it is for us to seek the Kingdom of Heaven like a treasure. From God’s perspective, it is he who is seeking us. He created our souls and they are like a pearl of great price. We are so valuable to God that he goes and sells everything. Where does he go? From heaven to earth. What does he sell? Himself, his life on the Cross. Why does he do this? To buy us back, to redeem us.

St. Paul is writing about this in the second reading. He describes a process beginning with God’s foreknowledge and ending with our glorification. “Those he foreknew he also predestined.” If God knew, before you were created, that he could save you, he planned to save you. “Those he predestined he also called.” And if he planned to save you, he called you to salvation. “Those he called he also justified.” And if he called you to salvation, he will make you a good person. “Those he justified he also glorified.” And if he made you a good person, he will give you a new life after death, better than this one, lasting forever.

This is the process that God follows for every person on earth. The only place for our action in the process is responding to the call. It may seem strange to us that God calls us only if we will respond. How does he know? But he just knows. Before he calls anyone, he knows whether they will say yes. Why should he bother calling someone who will say no? It is not a case of him being relatively sure of what a person will say. God is omniscient. This means that he not only knows all of “what is”, but he also knows every “what if”.

Consider the case of Solomon. God offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for, but God already knew what Solomon would ask for. He would not have offered if Solomon would have asked for riches or a long life or the death of his enemies. He wanted something that God wanted to give him, so God offered to give him whatever he wanted. Consider the case of Mary. God asked her whether she would be his mother. He knew that she was going to say yes before he asked. She could have said no, but then he would not have planned the entire universe around her saying yes.

Some people think that predestination and foreknowledge take away our free will. They do not. Free will is completely present, but it would be unreasonable to expect God to act as if he did not know what we were going to do. We do what we want to do, but God has already taken our decision into account. If he can buy the pearl, he is willing to go and sell everything, but if the pearl is not for sale at any price, why should he try negotiating?

So the two images come together. We see a treasure that can be had for the price of a field. God sees a pearl that can be bought for a very high price. If we purchase the field, God will buy the pearl. If we respond to the call, God will call us. If you think God is not calling you, try responding and you will find that the call was always there.

The third image Jesus gives us today is the image of the net full of fish. He tells us explicitly what this image means. It is the relationship between the Kingdom of Heaven and the whole world. In the end, everyone will be caught in the net. Some will be worth keeping, those who were justified. They will be glorified. Some will not be worth keeping, those who did not respond to the call. They will be thrown away like a rotten fish.

The last image is the scribe instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven. He “is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Sometimes this image is used to point out why we have the New and the Old Testaments. Several times throughout history, people have tried to say that the New Testament is all we really need. This image includes the refutation to such an idea, but it is also means more than that.

Jesus says “every scribe” rather than “every person”. We are told that he gave these images to his disciples, but we do not know which disciples. What is unusual about the disciples he is speaking to is that they understand what he is talking about; usually his disciples need more explanations. Perhaps he is speaking to a group of scribes and telling them that if they become instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven they will be able to use both their new knowledge and their old knowledge.

It reminds me of men who go into the seminary after studying something unrelated to theology. This knowledge is often able to assist them in their ministry. St. John Vianney, who was a farmer before becoming a priest, would go assist his parishioners who farmers and discuss angels while loading hay onto a wagon.

This is true not only of priests but of all of us. Taken together, we are experts in many different fields. Every scientist, every artist, every dancer, every advertising executive, every farmer, every machinist, every architect, every engineer, every social worker, every politician, every lawyer, and every salesperson who becomes a disciple of the Kingdom of Heaven is able to use their expertise for the benefit of the Kingdom. We already spoke about what the Kingdom can do for us; this is image is about what we can do for the Kingdom.