The Pearl of Great Price, 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A), July 25, 1999

Fr. Roger J. Landry
SS. Peter & Paul Parish, Fall River, MA
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 25, 1999
1Kings 3:5-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus continues to speak to us directly in parables about what the Kingdom of God is really like. Two weeks ago he gave us the image of the sower and the seed, to convince us that we, like good soil, need to be receptive to the Word of God in our lives and bear fruit. Last week he mentioned that the children of the kingdom are to function like yeast in the world. Just as the tiniest bit of yeast leavens an entire dough, so each Christian, by living his or her faith, can leaven his home, family, school, workplace and society at large with the grace and peace of the Gospel.

Today Jesus ups the ante. He uses two short parables as images to drive home his point that (1) that the kingdom of God is more valuable than everything else in our lives put together and (2) that it’s necessary, in order to possess the kingdom of God, to take some risks, precisely risks of faith.

Listen again to the parables: The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field which someone finds, hides and then sells everything he owns in order to buy. Or like a precious pearl for which a pearl expert sells everything he has in order to buy. Implicit in both images is that the landowner and the pearl merchant aren’t stupid. They’re selling everything, yes, but they’re gaining something they know is much more valuable. They’re coming out great winners in the exchange. That treasure, that priceless pearl, is worth more than everything in their lives put together — and I’m sure they, like any of us, would have had many things that they would have been attached to — and each is willing to take the risk of losing everything they have in order to gain that much more valuable fortune.

God is calling each one of us to treat the kingdom of God, to treat our faith, like the wise landowner and pearl merchant. To put our faith first in our lives, to consider it more valuable than everything else we have, than all of the good things we have combined, and, if need be, to take those risks we have to in order to persevere and grow in faith.

In the presence of God today, we can examine our consciences on how we’re doing as children of the kingdom in these two areas: first, how valuable is our faith to us? Is it the most important thing in our lives, or something that we take out on Sundays or a few times over the course of the week? Secondly, what risks or sacrifices are we willing to take in order to preserve and grow in faith?

In the first place, how valuable is our faith, our living relationship with God, to us? What is our real treasure? Another way of looking at this question is to put ourselves in the shoes of Solomon, King of Israel. If God were to say to us, as he said to Solomon, “Ask what you would like me to give you,” what would we ask for? If we could have anything in the world? God told Solomon what people normally ask him, and it seems that things haven’t changed very much in 3000 years. Many ask for a long life or health, both good things, surely, but not the most important thing. Others ask for riches, for wealth, for material things, as God said to Solomon. Others ask for things out of ambition, for the life of their enemies, to be more important than the guy or gal down the street or in the office. Solomon pleased God immeasurably, because, although he could have had anything, he asked for the wisdom to know and understand God and his Will, so that he might love God and serve others better. His faith in God and in his Covenantal Law of Love was the most important thing in his life, and God was so pleased to grant his prayer. Today, right here in this Church, God is willing to grant you anything you ask for in Jesus’ name and need. And if you ask Him for an increase in faith, for an augmentation in the wisdom found in knowing God and His Will, for an intensification of love for Him and for others, for for the courage to put Him and His Kingdom first, he will answer that prayer! I repeat: he will grant that prayer! Listen attentively to the words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel: “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”

So what’s stopping us from asking? Maybe the second point, because like the Rich Young Man, we’re truly afraid of making those sacrifices that we know will bring us into closer relation with Jesus. The faith, friends, is a gamble. It requires a sacrifice, a dying to ourselves, so that we might live more freely and happily in God. Like the landowner and the pearl merchant, we need to take a risk, to sacrifice what we might treasure now, in order to obtain that treasure which lasts forever. God has made it that way for a reason. In order to get the payoff, we have to be willing to take a risk, because if there were no real gamble involved in faith, it wouldn’t be faith. It’s very easy to swim downstream, but faith, by its nature, is swimming upstream. And the greatest payoffs are for those who take the biggest risks in faith, who, trusting in God, take that giant leap of faith, out into the unknown rapids of life, confident that God, as St. Paul writes, will make everything work out for the good for those of us who love him.

And if we need an example to inspire us to do this, we have one, Jesus himself. From all eternity, he was in heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in an everlasting communion of love. But he ended up trading in His majesty for a time, came all the way down to earth, took on our human nature, worked in a simple human trade, and then handed over everything, in fact his very life, for a treasure, a treasure he, the Father and the Spirit, considered more valuable than Jesus’ own blood. What was that treasure? That treasure is YOU! Each and every one of you, individually. Jesus risked everything because you were, you are, that valuable to him. And he’s asking you to take a similar risk for him. And if we take such a risk in imitation of him, if we truly begin to treat Him as the Treasure worth more than everything else in our lives, he will fill us with a peace and a happiness that no one will ever be able to take away.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I would like to make a concrete suggestion and invitation to you as an application of today’s Gospel. If we really want to put the faith first, I can think of no better place to start than by taking more seriously the greatest event ever, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, made present for us every day at Mass. In something even greater than the incarnation, when Jesus took flesh of the Virgin Mary, Jesus at Mass completely transubstantiates mere bread and wine into his own body and blood, and invites us to take him inside of us so that we might become more and more like him. The One who is hidden in the tiny little host is worth more than everything else on earth. In fact, he created everything else on earth and redeemed each one of us out of life. He is life’s greatest treasure. And he willed that we might have the unbelievable opportunity to receive him not just once a week but every day. How relatively few of us, however, take advantage of that opportunity. Doing so would without a doubt require some sacrifices on our parts, some risks, but if we were to take those risks and make those sacrifices, we, like the landowner in the parable, would, I promise you, go away happy. You are most welcome at the daily Mass celebrated Monday through Friday at 8 am in the daily Mass chapel on the first floor of the School, but, also, at any parish in the city where Mass is offered at various times throughout the day.

Jesus is that hidden treasure, a treasure that much of our world doesn’t recognize, a fortune that is undervalued sometimes even by faithful Catholics. Put him first in your life and you’ll never be sorry. Take him reverently within you, and you will be transformed into a Temple of God of such stunning interior beauty and glory that St. Peter’s in Rome would pale in comparison. Today, ask God for the grace to risk everything on his promises and he will hear that prayer. He will hear that prayer. He will hear that prayer!

We finish with the words of the prayers from today’s Mass: God, our Father, without you nothing is holy, nothing has value. Guide us to everlasting life by helping us to invest wisely the blessing you have given to the World, Christ your only-begotten Son, the pearl of great price, waiting to come down on this altar for us! Amen.