Sunday, July 24, 2011
Jesus was a master story-teller. He crafted the parables he told carefully so that his audience could both relate to them and be surprised by them. Whoever heard Jesus speak could not help but think long and hard about the point he was trying to make.
The parables in today's gospel reading are no different. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a valuable treasure buried in a field and like a priceless pearl which a merchant seeks. In both cases, the men are willing to sell everything they have to acquire them. The treasure and the pearl fill the men with such joy, in fact, that they rush out to rid themselves of everything else that once held value to them. Those belongings now seem worthless because of the prospect of acquiring something so much greater. Jesus' message is simply this: there is no treasure as valuable as God. And, following Jesus is worth giving up everything we have.
The crowds listening to Jesus knew he wasn't exaggerating. They looked at the example of Jesus himself. He left a simple life in Galilee to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. Because of his preaching, he had no home of his own and no wealth of his own. Jesus had left everything and everyone behind to proclaim the good news. Eventually, Jesus would give his very life on the cross. Serving his Heavenly Father was a priceless treasure for Jesus, a treasure which made everything else seem worthless.
As Jesus was speaking, the crowds could also look to the apostles to know that he wasn't exaggerating. To follow Jesus, the apostles had left their jobs, their homes and their families. When Jesus called them, they joyfully dropped everything to join him in spreading the good news. The apostles had discovered in Jesus a treasure which was worth pursuing at all costs.
Two-thousand years later, there are people who still sell all they have to follow Jesus. They are the people with good paying jobs who, upon discovering the love God has for them and the message of Jesus, decide to leave those jobs to serve God in religious life. They are the doctors and nurses who leave lucrative practices to heal the sick in third world countries. They are life-long politicians who risk their careers to speak out against abuses of human rights and to defend the unborn child's right to life. They are young people who risk being ridiculed and rejected by their friends to live a pure and chaste life, saving themselves for the one who will be their life-long love.
What has compelled people throughout the centuries to abandon all they have known and all they have loved to serve Jesus with all their heart and all their strength? Quite simply, it is because they have fallen in love with the person of Jesus. They have discovered in Jesus a God who knows them, who forgives them and who loves them. This love makes everything else seem worthless. Because of this love, they want everyone to know the God they have discovered. Jesus himself is the priceless pearl. Jesus himself is the valuable treasure.
Most of us gathered here today will not be called upon to sell everything to follow Jesus. For most of us, following Jesus will be a simple act of being faithful to him by being good parents, good citizens and good children. However, following Jesus always costs something.
First of all, following Jesus costs us time. Even though Mass rarely lasts more than an hour, there are other things we could be doing with this time. And, how many times are we distracted during Mass thinking about things we need to get done? All of us give this hour to God because we believe that something special happens here. We believe that Jesus is truly present in his word and in his Body and Blood. And so, we gladly sacrifice this hour to meet Jesus, our friend and brother.
Secondly, following Jesus very often costs us friendships. When we take our faith seriously, it is a very common thing that there are some friends who just don't understand why we have changed. They may even think we are hypocrites and phonies because they knew the way we used to be. They haven't yet discovered the priceless pearl we have discovered. No matter how dear those friends may have been to us before, those relationships often fall by the wayside when we decide to follow Jesus.
Time and friendships are just two examples of things we leave behind to acquire the priceless pearl and the valuable treasure. Each of us could probably name several others. But, no matter what it is we are called to leave behind, like the men in the parable, we ultimately do it with joy because we are receiving something infinitely greater than anything this world can offer.
It could also be that, for many of us here today, our faith is still a buried treasure, a treasure we have not yet discovered. In fact, no matter how advanced we are in our journey with Jesus, there is always so much more to be discovered. We can never exhaust all the riches of our faith. This likewise gives us great joy to know that there is still so much to learn up to the day that we meet Jesus face to face in heaven.
Jesus is offering each of us a priceless treasure. It is not the type of treasure, however, that we can keep to ourselves. Rather, it is the type of treasure whose value we discover as we share it with others. We are to go from this place filled with joy at the priceless pearl we have discovered and tell others about it so that they can share our joy. There is no joy greater than discovering the depth of the love God has for us and the mercy he has shown us by forgiving us our sins through the blood of Jesus.