This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 13:44–52:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“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 sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”
Lately, my wife and I have been captivated by a couple of the home-remodeling shows on HGTV. That’s probably why I have gotten the bug to clean out the house this year — well, that and a whole lot of free time, too. It’s tough to make excuses and procrastinate on the clean-up projects when you have nowhere else to go.
The most intriguing and compelling episodes usually involve houses that you might otherwise never enter, let alone buy. In one episode of Fixer+Upper, a client quipped that he’d made it a rule never to buy a house he’d be afraid to take his kids trick-or-treating. However, those same clients ended up buying the scariest of the three options. Why? They saw — correctly — a treasure hidden in plain sight and put all of their money into restoring it.
Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of that impulse, not just for the treasure of the Word but also for just how far we are called to give ourselves to it. Clearly, Jesus is not talking about worldly treasure, even though He uses that as a powerful analogy. (He’s not talking about fixer-uppers either, I know, but bear with me.) Just how far will we go to grasp salvation, and not just for ourselves but also for our brothers and sisters?
For an answer to that, we should turn to our first reading today from 1 Kings, in which Solomon is given the opportunity to choose a gift from the Lord. Solomon grasps the gravity of the mission the Lord has given him — to lead a nation of priests and prophets in order to spread the Word of God. Solomon also understands his lack of preparation for the task ahead, having been the youngest son of a youngest son, a succession that turned norms of the time on their head — and would still raise eyebrows today in some areas of the world.
Instead of choosing wealth or military might, as some would consider treasures with purpose, Solomon instead chooses wisdom. “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong,” he asks. “For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”
Solomon recognized the true treasure for his calling — not wealth nor the humiliation of his enemies, but the proper way in which to serve the Lord. That mission of service was so important to Solomon that the only treasure he sought was that which would make him better able to succeed at it, and better able to please the Lord. He put aside all other considerations in making that choice and recognizing the true treasure.
This commitment is what Jesus teaches in this parable — the commitment to put the Lord before all other things. In order to truly possess the treasure of salvation, we have to “sell out” to “buy in.” Our pastor in his homily last night noted a very important aspect of this parable, which is that the first man bought the land that contained the treasure. Why not just take the treasure without buying the land? What about the merchant who “finds” the pearl of great price? Both men could have just taken their treasure instead of selling all they had to buy it.
The point, however, is in the selling. The Word of God is free to all, especially these days. Plenty of websites have the Bible fully on line; some like Bible Gateway publish it in full for free in dozens of different versions. It costs nothing to access the Word, and in many cases nothing to access deep and detailed commentary and teachings on it, too.
That treasure, however, has little meaning or value for the person who does not sell out everything else to buy into the Word. Rather than a pearl of great price, the Word becomes a curio, a collectable, something that we store rather than allowing it into our hearts. A Bible under the coffee table can end up as a knick-knack on a shelf for those whom the Word never touches. In order to gain the treasure, we must sell off everything else — putting aside the materialism, the disordered appetites, and the attachment to sin from which Christ came to save us.
This is what Solomon understood, even before the Lord granted him more wisdom. He knew that the Lord’s gifts were intended for His mission and not Solomon’s own earthly desires, and so Solomon embraced the Lord’s will as his own. That is what this parable calls us to do, too. Jesus wants us to “sell out and buy in” — to put aside our own will and intemperate desires to adopt His will and embrace His salvation.
When we do that, we can finally see the treasure of salvation in the Word for what it is, but we can also see the other treasures in our lives — our gifts of the Holy Spirit, our family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the end, we are not selling off anything we truly own in order to find our treasure. We are simply distancing ourselves from the materiality and passions that tend to own us, in order to find the salvation that Christ has truly given us as a gift.
The front-page image is a detail from “Le Trésor Enfoui (The Hidden Treasure)” by James Tissot, c. 1894. Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.