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July, 22 2014

17th Week in Ordinary Time (A)

Deacon Dave Shea, DMin


Parables, parables and more parables. For the past few weeks, Jesus has used a bunch of them to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. Have you ever wondered why he taught with parables? He certainly could have come right out and simply spoken directly to us about God and heaven in words he knew we’d understand. But that’s not what he decided to do—no he determined that making comparisons between holy things and ordinary things was the way he wanted us to come to an understanding of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus literally dazzles us by the number and variety of things the kingdom of heaven is like . . . like this and this and this. It’s like a man stumbling on buried treasure in a field and he sells all he has to buy it and possess it. It’s like a merchant finding a pearl of great price, so he too sells all that he has and buys it. No sacrifice was too great to possess the treasure they found.

It’s only human to want to possess what we value. Oftentimes when I preach at infant baptisms I like to put people through an imaginary exercise. I ask them, “If your house was on fire, and everyone was safe, including all the pets, and you had five minutes to rush into your home and take whatever you could carry, what would you take? Well some of the first answers are always: jewelry, money, and credit cards. But in a short while, the answers change—the family Bible, photo albums, pictures, reminders of those we love, memories of the past. It’s when they realize that everything else can be replaced; that it’s about memories of relationships; the people who mean the most to us. That’s the real treasure we never want to let go of. And that’s what Jesus is saying—that the kingdom of heaven is such a treasure.

So why is it worth so much? Jesus has this experience of God and life and he wants to share it with us. He wants us to realize that we belong to God; we’re His; that we are cherished and cared for through no merit of our own. And because of this great treasure, we are called to commit ourselves to the noblest way of living our lives on this earth. But that still leaves us wondering, “Just what is the Kingdom of Heaven?”

The kingdom of heaven is both the present and the “not yet.” It is God’s presence here and now in our world and in our lives. And . . . and it is what awaits us at the end of our lives. It is now and then. So what Jesus wants to tell us is that we don’t have to wait until we draw our last breaths on this earth to experience the kingdom. We can attain it here in this life when our relationship with God, and our response to that relationship give meaning to our lives today and draw us into the future tomorrow.

Experiencing the kingdom is choosing to live our lives the best that we can, not out of fear of punishment,  or concern about retribution or judgment, but solely out of love and charity. It is choosing honesty even when it means not making profits; it is treating all people in a loving way even those we can’t stand  and those we think unworthy; it is keeping our promises and being faithful in marriage and friendships even while others take commitments lightly; it is helping others who need us even if we don’t owe them anything and even when they’ll never be able to repay us; it is having hope even in the face of despair; it is forgiving even when others keep a long memory of wrongs.

So perhaps today is a good time to do some soul-searching and take a look at how we’re living in the kingdom; at what we’re doing, in the big and small aspects of our lives, and where we’re putting our time to see if it truly reflects God’s presence. And while we’re at it, we should also rethink our treasures and take an honest look at what we consider valuable—where the lasting treasures truly lie for us. Because there will come a reckoning—Jesus talks about a net which collects every kind of fish, and all sorts of things, both the good and the bad. When the net is finally pulled in, at the end, that’s when God will do the sorting. Jesus makes it clear that judgment will not be put off forever. It will happen and when it does, it’ll be too late then to protest, to make excuses, to ask for another chance and more time to put our treasures in order. We can’t keep procrastinating.

In Jesus’ parables, both persons sell all that they have and renounce what they once were and what they once had in a complete reversal. For them it was a chance of a lifetime that they pursued at great price. What about us? Well, chances are we’re not going to have to renounce everything we own but we may have to sell off anger, selfishness, pride and hard-heartedness and anything else that hinders and destroys God’s kingdom. Chances are we’re going to have to make some changes, take some risks, and . . . take a chance on Christ.

The treasure is right in front of us, but there’s no need to grab at it. Just put our hands out to receive it just as we do when come to receive that taste of the kingdom in the Eucharist, the treasure that Jesus wants us to have.

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