Saturday, July 26, 2008

Finding the Treasure

(17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

Today we hear two more parables that come to us in a pair. They follow the classic form of “the kingdom of God is like…,” and are meant to teach us something about knowing the kingdom of God in our own lives.

In each of these short parables something valuable is found, either the treasure buried in the field or the “pearl of great price.” We have to be careful, though, that we don’t just see image of the kingdom of God in the valuable thing! When Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” it refers to the whole of the story. In each of the parables there is a discovery and a response, and both of these together are what make for an image of the kingdom of God.

In the discovery of the valuable object, there is a significant difference between the two parables. The merchant, Jesus says, had been “searching for fine pearls,” when he found the “pearl of great price,” while the person in the field just found the treasure. In one case someone was looking for something and in the other it was discovered by surprise. It goes the same way for us; we can find the kingdom of God in our lives in our world in both ways. We can look for the kingdom of God by reflection on how God has been working in our lives, how the Providence of God has led us along to this point, putting the right people in our path and supporting us through hard times. This is an important part of everyone’s spiritual practice, that we reflect and try to notice how God has been with us in the past and continues to operate in our lives now.

On the other hand, I think we’ve all had the experience of suddenly becoming aware of God “out of the blue” as it were. Maybe it’s in a situation of loss or grief and all of a sudden at some moment we know the strong hand of God with us. Or it might be in a moment of beauty like when we are contemplating the order and wonder of creation and we are suddenly aware of the great and adorable Mystery behind it all.

In the end though, it doesn’t matter how we find and become aware of the kingdom of God because the response we are called to make is the same whether we were looking for it or not. The merchant who found the pearl and the person who found the treasure in the field do the same thing once they find the object of value: they buy it. And not only do they buy it, but they “sell all” and buy it, doing whatever they have to do to own that treasure. Having found it, they single-mindedly make it the entire focus of what they want.

This is “the kingdom of God;” not that we just notice or become aware of God working gently and humbly in our lives, but that we buy into that experience, doing whatever we need to do to own it and make it our primary focus. This is the twofold process that brings us into the kingdom of God: first, that we find the Treasure, the awareness of God with us and working in our lives and our world. Second, that we should invest ourselves in that awareness and make it our guiding principle—allowing the rest of our lives to be organized around it. That’s what it means to put God first, to let God be “king” of our hearts and our world, and to step into the kingdom of heaven.

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