Year A: Seventeenth Sunday Ordinary Time
Matthew 13: 44-52
“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.”
“People are expected to develop spiritually. This means greater understanding of Jesus’ teachings and greater integration of those teachings into creative ethical behavior. People are judged by their use of the gifts they’ve been given” – John Shea
- As you reflect on this parable’s metaphor of “selling and buying”, what are some things you have previously valued or pursued that in light of new spiritual growth, you are now letting go of? (e.g., possessions, attitudes, old beliefs and behaviors that no longer serve you or the kingdom)
- How do you use both “old and the new” experiences in life to grow in knowledge and faith? What are some examples?
- When in your life have you taken a chance or put yourself on the line because you discovered a “pearl of great price”, or a glimpse of the kingdom at hand? Tell the story, what was the awakening?
- In what new ways are you embracing faith as an ongoing process of finding and discarding, in response to new revelations of God’s presence in your life? Explain
Matthew 13: 44-52
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
In today’s Gospel we read the conclusion of Jesus’ discourse on the kingdom of God, in which he teaches the crowds, and then the disciples, through parables. You may have noticed, as we have been reading Matthew’s Gospel, that Matthew the editor, has arranged his Gospel into narrative sections and then long speeches given by Jesus on a particular topic. This is our third Sunday reading about Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God. Scripture scholars suggest that Matthew arranged the inherited oral and written traditions for his Gospel into five main topics in order to reflect the Pentateuch, the five books of the law.
Today we read three more comparisons that Jesus uses to help his disciples understand what he means by “the kingdom of heaven” The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, like a merchant who finds a pearl of great price, and like a net thrown into the sea. The first two stories function as parables, so we will apply our method of parable interpretation to them. In both the story of the buried treasure and the story of the merchant who finds the precious pearl the disciples, to whom Jesus is speaking, are compared to the person who finds the treasure. In each case that person recognizes the value of his find and joyfully sells all he has in order to keep that which is most valuable. Jesus’ disciples must do the same.
The third comparison is quite different from the other two. “The kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.” At first glance this parable seems to be addressing the fact that the coming of the kingdom is gradual, so that evil is not immediately abolished: the net catches fish of every kind, both good and bad. Later the good will be saved and the bad discarded. The parable is teaching the disciples to be patient with me process. Good will prevail in the end.
However, an allegorical interpretation of the parable also appears in the Gospel and is attributed to Jesus. As was true with the allegorical interpretation of the parable of the weeds and wheat, the subject changes from patience with the process of the coming of the kingdom to judgment. Apocalyptic imagery is used to teach that we are each accountable for our actions. The end for those who do good and those who do evil is not same. Jesus asks his disciples if they have understood all these things, and they say, “Yes.” This scene is typical of Matthew’s Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, emphasizes the disciples’ inability to under- stand. Jesus then tells the disciples that “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.” Here Matthew describes what he himself has done in writing his Gospel. Over and over we have seen Matthew demonstrate that Jesus has fulfilled the words of the prophets by quoting Old Testament passages. For the last three Sundays we have seen Matthew attribute to Jesus allegorical sermons that grew up in the early church. Matthew uses both the old (the Old Testament) and the new (church sermons) to interpret and teach the significance of Jesus’ ministry to his Jewish contemporaries.
In doing this Matthew is fulfilling the role of a “scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven.” After the age of prophecy ended (soon after the Babylonian exile) the scribes took over the function of prophets. The Jews believed that God was in charge of history and that God’s hidden purposes would be revealed. Both in order to interpret events and to apply the law to new settings, the scribes scoured the law and the prophets to find words that, although reinterpreted, could help them explain God’s will and God’s ways to God’s people. The word was understood to be a living word that always remained pertinent. Matthew, the scribe, is himself taking from his storehouse both the old and the new to help his fellow Jews understand Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom.
Riddles, Questions, and the Long Reach
What is the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, the fish worth keeping? We all know the right answer: God. To get at the real answer, we might ask ourselves, “What’s most important? What do I want so badly it aches?”
The parent might respond with the name of a child, the lover thinks of the beloved, the artist or craftsperson of the next project, the businessperson of a promotion, the naturalist of stream and meadow.
Here’s the catch: what if the right answer and the real answer are one and the same? Isn’t God big enough to encompass it all? If our loves and longings spring from the deepest, best self, then they are part and parcel of the God-spark, Christ within.
The God-planted joy in it all gives permanence. So, if the beloved dies, the children eventually leave home, the career derails, the meadow becomes a parking lot, or the project ends, something vital remains. Through the enduring happiness, memory, or sense of completion, God leaves a lasting mark.
Jesus’ genius is communicating these subtle, hard-to-define truths in symbols, not laws or abstractions. The symbol is elastic enough to hold polarities and concrete enough for the youngest to grasp, at least a bit. It sounds like a riddle: what do pearls, fields, and fish have in common? They all get us thinking, questioning, reaching for God whose hidden presence hovers tantalizingly close. Without God, we have nothing. Having God, we have everything. Maybe we’re never without.
Kathy Coffey is an award-winning writer, mother of four, and speaker who gives workshops and retreats nationally and internationally. Her most recent book is “When the Saints Came Marching”
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.