The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sell all he has and buys the field.
It may be one of the most fought over pieces of real estate in the world; but, as anyone who has ever been there can attest, much of Israel is arid desert – basically a bunch of rocks. Working such land is hard and exhausting work. So it’s easy to imagine the surprise, excitement, and joy of someone who, having turned over hundreds of rocks, suddenly sees something completely unexpected, something with the potential of transforming his life for the better!
Perhaps, we are supposed to see ourselves in these parables. Like the field hand and the pearl merchant, we too have hopefully found in God’s grace something we neither earned nor could have expected. Like them, we have the opportunity to take advantage of the gift – buying the field or the pearl – in other words, responding fully to the opportunity, recognizing that it is an all-or-nothing decision on our part. In life one either takes advantage of an opportunity, or one misses the opportunity.
That is how we might unpack these particular parables in normal times. But, to use Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous line, “this is no ordinary time.” Instead, the coronavirus pandemic has taken over our world, has transformed the landscape of our ordinary lives in all sorts of ways, has highlighted the fragility of life on this planet, has undermined our personal sense of security, and so left us without a lot of the things we used to treasure and wondering what we may have left for us to treasure. Like the fishermen in the parable, whose net has pulled in all sorts of stuff, we too may find ourselves forced to unload a lot, maybe most of what we might otherwise have valued, lest we ourselves get caught in the net and strangled by false securities.
How right Solomon was to ask God for the gifts of wisdom and understanding. Would that more world leaders were like Solomon in knowing what they lack and what they need – and what their people need from them!
In such a terrible time as this that we are now living through, perhaps we might reimagine these parables from God’s point of view, so to speak, and see ourselves as the treasure God has found for himself in the midst of the ordinary life of the world, and for which he has invested his most precious possession, his Son, Jesus, in order that we might be treasured by him forever.
Of course, a treasure found in a field or carefully extracted from a net probably requires careful care and cleaning. But a God who is willing to get involved in our world from the inside – by becoming one of us and living our life in our world – is not going to shrink from the added work of nurturing and perfecting his treasure in his people.
God has always been busily involved in our messy, mixed-up, dangerously unpredictable world. The work God has begun in us, that same work continues in our daily life as his people, his Church, where the messy, mixed-up, and dangerously unpredictable in us is attended to, so that – as Saint Paul said - we in turn may be called, justified, and glorified.
On the one hand, this pandemic moment makes us shed the illusory security of false treasures. On the other, it challenges us to treasure ourselves and one another as God does, deploying God’s gifts of wisdom and scientific knowledge to understand our situation and so bond with all our brothers and sisters to heal our broken world.
Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, July 26, 2020.