Reflection on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field. What do we treasure enough that we would sell all we have to buy that field? When I made vows, I didn’t really think about heaven, but I did think about selling all I had for that treasure in the field. It’s hard to remember what I thought the treasure was, maybe membership in this Community, or standing with Mary, or working to build the kingdom. Think back. When you were young, perhaps the treasure was following God’s path or cherishing a person or a work, leaving home because you had a mission.
We did sell all we had – gave it right up – to acquire the field that held our treasure. But seeking treasure is not only for the young. We don’t find buried treasure every day of our lives or even every year or two. But sometimes we come to the point where we see a treasure. And we go for it. We write the dissertation. We quit our day job. We learn the foreign language and travel to that foreign land. We adopt a child. And then, some years later, we may discover another treasure in yet another field.
Most of us here this morning are pretty old. But we still may discover a field where a treasure is buried. Sometimes when Tinker asks at the breakfast table if any of us want anything, Judy will answer, “A million dollars.” But she doesn’t really want the money, she wants to use the money. That’s her treasure, the act of providing what other people need. She’s known where her treasure is for a long time.
King Solomon knew the treasure he wanted. Wisdom. It was the tool he needed for the work he was set to do.
Or take a pearl. John Steinbeck wrote about a diver who brought up from the bottom of the sea a huge pearl. He was sure it was a pearl of great price, even though the local dealers told him it was too big and thus worthless. They would pay a little to take it off his hands. So he tried to sell it himself, and he was pursued and robbed. He lost everything for this pearl of great price, and finally he threw it back into the sea. The diver went for broke, gave all he had for his vision of happiness and he lost everything. But he gained the truth that his particular pearl, his treasure, wasn’t worth the cost.
We conceive the story another way where the treasure is people surviving in the rain forest in the Amazon and the protector, Sister Dorothy Stang, is killed by human predators and becomes an honored martyr. Or, we’ve spent our lives seeking peace and justice, and our search doesn’t seem to be coming out so well. Think of the farmworkers. Military spending. Literacy.
Jesus’ point isn’t the actual finding of the treasure. He says the kingdom of heaven is like the process of selling all we have for the treasure. Steinbeck is using the story of the pearl diver to tell us about the process and that sometimes we might go for broke, and, indeed, we get broken. I don’t often turn to Paul for comfort, but today he says we know how all things work to good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.
Seeking the kingdom of heaven is an exercise in faith and hope. We find the treasure. We rebury it and sell everything we have to buy that field, hoping nobody finds the treasure before we can get the deed signed. We have faith the treasure’s going to be there, and we hope with all our hearts that it is going to be worth everything we paid for it.
I told Kim Klein I was writing this homily and she said that selling all we have frees us to do anything, that for the sake of the kingdom of heaven we have permission to go for broke.