Sunday, July 24, 2011

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm 144:10-11, 15-18.
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52
Today Christ tells us three parables: That of the found treasure and pearl and that of the dragnet filled with fish. Christ here talks like a merchant, a trader, a businessman. He uses the principle of exchange to drive home a very important message about eschatology and how to reward positively from it. The one who sells all he has uses the money realized from it to buy another thing - of an immense value, something better.

That which is better for him is the kingdom of heaven. He sees nothing in the possessions of the man of equal or comparable worth with the kingdom of heaven and what it takes to attain it. A singer once sang "Ifeoma di n'ihu, onye elele anya n'azu" that which lies ahead is better than that which is left behind, hence we should focus on that which is to be attained.

I went to a town once on an evangelizing mission. There I discovered that the little kids in the town became so fond of me and always wanted to play games with me and watch movies at my place. But among them, there were some boys who so disliked taking their bath and were always dirty. I complained to their parents but nothing changed. To challenge them to change their lifestyles I told them I would no longer be playing games with them anymore unless they agreed to be taking their baths everyday and before coming to my place. Surprisingly, they gave up being dirty and their dislike for taking their bath and now loved bathing several times a day just to remain my friend. They gave up what they loved doing to gain another - my friendship, my games and movies. They gave up all they had to become something.

In the parables Christ told us, the men gave up all too to become something - owners of treasures and pearls. They traded something for another. Christ thus tells us that many are what we must have to forsake, trade with eternity in view. We must make a choice between options. Life is full of choices. Even the choice not to choose is a choice. In choosing, we always trade one thing for the other. The women of faith sang - "am trading my sorrows, am trading my shame, am laying them down for the joy of the Lord, am trading my sickness, am trading my fears, am laying them down for the joy of the Lord, and I sing yes Lord ..."

The choices we make in life define us and make us who we are, they make us either worthy or not of the kingdom of heaven. Christ, thus, presents the kingdom of heaven as the most important in life that should guide the way we live our lives. He compares it to a treasure hidden in a land and a pearl of precious value found only by those who search for it. For him it is that longed for. It is our hope that pulls us to itself. It is our future which we know not absolutely but vaguely (1 Cor. 2: 9). It is Jesus Christ in whom all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell (Col. 2:3), and from whose fullness we have received grace upon grace (Jn 1:16). Hence St. Paul writes in Phil 3:8 - "I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ."

God in Christ therefore is this hope of ours - our hope that is trustworthy. Ecclesiastes 9:4 says, so long as man lives he hopes. He lives perennially in view of what lies ahead, what is to come, the future. He is so drawn to it that all his activities - past and present - are directed towards shaping this unknown 'not yet' that looms and fascinates him. He is an indigent present. He is open to the future with the sole aim of overcoming his deficiencies. Many scholars have averred many solutions to these problem of man in this world that have not really saved man because of his finitude. Hence the need to posit a novum, an absolute future that is not evolutionary, a future of wholeness and plenitude, a future that transcends all immanent futures, but does not contradict them; in which man's perennial seeking will be resolved absolutely. In this hope we are saved as St Paul argues in Rom. 8:23,24. "Spe salvi facti sumus." It is this future hope that Christ points us to - eternity, heaven.

The Christian with this kind of hope of a goal, an end (eternal life) in view is thus able to face the past, the present and immanent futures with their vicissitudes with relative ease. The Christian lives the future in hope. This hope is of an encounter with Christ, it is coming to know God. This hope thus is 'performative'. It is life changing, it makes things happen. the one who hopes lives differently. he lives a hope-filled faith.

This is demonstrated by many texts in the bible. It is with faith, a hope filled faith, that the buyer of the land and the pearl went to sell all they had. They made present the future, i.e. the land/pearl they would acquire - and this changed the way they lived their present and gave meaning to their life, the present in view of the future goal. Heb. 10:34 told us how the believers of the early Church patiently endured persecutions and the lost of their properties - the basis of their life - for the sake of a better and abiding possession - the basis of their faith (i.e. their hope). This hope was why they could do extraordinary things like martyrdom, monasticism, etc. Heb. 11: 23 - 27 gave the story of Moses as guided by this same hope-filled faith. It reads; "he refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, chose to be ill-treated in company with God's people rather than to enjoy the transitory pleasures of sin. He considered that the humiliations offered to the Anointed were something more precious than all the treasures of Egypt, because he had his eye fixed on the reward. It was by faith that he left Egypt without fear of the King's anger; he held to his purpose like someone who could see the Invisible."

What have we forsaken in view of eternity? Do we prefer eternity than that evil that invites/lures us always to itself? Do we prefer eternity than that plan to hurt our brother? Do we prefer eternity to that plan to steal what belongs to another, to collect the land or property that belongs to another? Do we prefer eternity to that sinful relationship we are in at school, our workplace, our community, etc? Do we prefer eternity to the lies we tell everyday at home, in trade or in our workplaces. What are we trading for the kingdom of heaven?

Finally Christ tells us that it is on the basis of this that we will be judged. With the parable of the dragnet filled with fish he tells us that it is only those who persevere that will in the end be worthy of the kingdom as those who have compromised the kingdom will be thrown into hell fire. He rereads the story of Matthew 25 in a concise format. It is only the wise like Solomon of the first reading who in their wisdom know that what comes first is the kingdom of heaven for the scriptures say "seek first the kingdom of heaven and all things will be added unto you." Matt. 6:36. In this wisdom and not the worldly type of wisdom that deceives, disguises the truth and manipulates that salvation can be gotten, that we can gain that absolute reward we seek, which is the kingdom of heaven. May Christ illumine our intellect with wisdom and understanding, gift of the Holy Spirit that in all things, in all situations in life, all our choices in life, all our decisions may be made in view of the eternity that calls us to itself and not in view of mundane, temporal rewards that do not last.