The wisdom to know the difference

The Kingdom of God. Jesus speaks of it so often and yet, we cannot resist asking: “what and where is the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven?” Not surprisingly, there are in all 122 occurrences of these words in the New Testament, 99 in the three Synoptic Gospels and 90 on the lips of Jesus himself. Matthew refers to the “Kingdom of heaven” following the Jewish linguistic rule of never using the Name of God out of reverence for the greatness of his Holy Name. Mark and Luke use “Kingdom of God.”1 In either case, the meaning is the same.

Pearl of Great Price

But what is it, where is it, and most importantly, when is it? The Kingdom of heaven is both now and “not yet.” It is both the presence in the here and now of God in our lives and, it is what awaits us beyond this earthly existence. It is now and “not yet.” What Jesus wants us to understand is that the kingdom is ours to experience both now and later, not just later.

We attain the kingdom by choosing to live our lives the best we can; not out of fear of punishment, retribution or judgment, but out of love.

Think of how we live our lives. Do we choose to treat others honestly and fairly or are we motivated solely for personal gain? Do we treat everyone—even those we dislike or think unworthy of our care and respect, lovingly, as children of God? Do we honor our commitments to our family and friends even when they might not? Do we help others who need our help, even if or when we owe them nothing, without expecting or demanding anything in return?

The kingdom is neither time nor place. When we hear “the kingdom of heaven is like …” we conjure up an image of heaven as a place, a place we are traveling toward, a place to which we hope to one day arrive. But that is not heaven, that is not the “Kingdom of God.”

The Kingdom of heaven is first a reference to a relationship, not a place or a time. We don’t have to wait for the eschatological “end time” to experience the kingdom of heaven. We experience it in the here and now when our relationship with God and our response to his love give meaning to our lives now while drawing us toward the “not yet.”

Having a right relationship with God requires some serious soul-searching, it demands taking a hard look at how we are currently living in the kingdom; looking at all aspects of our lives—both big and small. Are we living as if God is truly present to us? Where does our treasure lie? What is the pearl which we value most? How much would you give up to purchase it? If God offered you something, how would you respond?

God said to Solomon, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Heady stuff for a mere youth, who had just recently succeeded his father, David, as king. Many might ask for wealth or power or long life, but Solomon asked for none of those things. “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon asked for wisdom, for the ability to rule wisely, with good judgment.

How many leaders today ever truly listen to the people? How many of us truly listen to others, attempting to understand their perspective, what they are saying?

Far too often, what we perceive in others are but superficial trappings, masks which hide the true self. Buried deep within lies a darkness, filled with resentment, bitterness, resentment, anger, frustration, and jealousy. In this we all struggle, for it is in our nature as moral human beings. Anyone who has foregone dreams, ambitions, comfort, and pleasure for the sake of God, truth, duty, family, community, or country, will at times, feel resentment for the crosses they have quietly born which have largely gone unnoticed and unappreciated by those who have chosen the easier path of pleasure and careless existence.

Those among us who strive to live lives in service to others, to be good neighbors and to love God above all else, can too easily fall prey to envy, self-pity, and bitter moralizing over the faults and failures of others. How then can we resist the temptation while continuing to live faithful to the Gospel?

I suggest the answer lies within the gospel message for today: in the parable of the buried treasure which a person finds and buries again and in the parable of the merchant who finds a pearl of great price. We should always “remember that a parable always points to ‘something more’ or ‘something other’. The key word here is ‘joy’. God or God’s reign is the hidden treasure. To find God brings great joy, but the discovery has a potential for disaster as well as for grace.”2

Each, out of great joy, eagerly sells all that he has in order to obtain a treasure of great value or a pearl of great price. Neither regrets nor hesitates in the least for what he has to give up for the treasure obtained far outweighs the price they had to pay.

It is in the context of self-sacrifice where we determine our true treasure.

If the pain of what is sacrificed overshadows the joy of what is discovered, that is, if the focus is more on what we have lost and given up rather than on what we have found, we will end up doing the right actions but with the wrong energy, carrying other people’s crosses and sending them the bill. And we will be unable to stop ourselves from being judgmental, bitter, and secretly envious of the amoral.

To the very extent that we die to ourselves in order to live for others, we run the perennial risk of falling into the kind of bitterness that besets us whenever we feel we have missed out on something. That’s an occupational hazard, a very serious one, inside Christian discipleship and the spiritual life in general. And so, our focus must always be on the treasure, the pearl of great price, the rich meaning, the self-authenticating joy that is the natural fruit of any real self-sacrifice.3

What is the one thing—the treasure, the pearl—for which we would be willing to sacrifice everything, willing to sell or give all that we have in order to possess? What Solomon wanted most was “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.

Would we want the same, or is what we want something superficial and selfish: possessions, security, power, pleasure, or comfort? What would be worth all that we have? What would we sacrifice everything to obtain? This is what the parables in the gospel are about: the reign of God, his kingdom, our hearts’ desire and deepest existential longing.

Some seek pleasures in every variation imaginable. They fall away sated but restless. Some build shrines to the ego’s power. They die alone, unloved, and uncaring. Others collect their things to die, like the movies’ Citizen Kane, empty of substance.

Solomon dreamed long ago that a higher wisdom and deeper joy might be found. It would not be grasped in the accumulation of things, the collection of earthly delights, or dominance over others, even though these would be given to him in good time.

His deepest desire was to know a good that was fully worth loving. His highest hope was to know what was right and to be able to do it. God saw this higher wisdom in him, this pearl of great price, and Solomon’s wish was granted.4

Origen, an ancient Christian thinker, wrote:

To the seeker after fine pearls may be applied the words, ‘Seek and you will find,’ and, ‘Everyone who seeks will find/’ If you ask what is to be sought, and what will be found by everyone who seeks for it, I say with all confidence: pearls—especially that pearl which will be acquired by those who give their all, who sacrifice everything for it, the pearl Paul meant when he said: ‘I have accepted the loss of everything in order to gain Christ.’ ‘Everything’ means beautiful pearls; ‘to gain Christ’ refers to the one pearl of great price.5

Are you willing to pay the price “to gain Christ?

Amen.

Homily #133
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

 


1 Joseph Ratzinger. Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, 2nd ed., (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press,1988), 24-25.
2 John J. Pilch, Hidden Treasures, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.
3 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile: Searching for the Right Fuel, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.
4 John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Higher Wisdom, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.
5 Origen, Commentary on Matthew’s Gospel 10, 9-10: SC 162, 173-177.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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