July 30, 2017
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Today we read the last three parables of the chapter that Matthew devotes to the mystery of the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus uses new images to speak of the Kingdom of God that bursts into history, that transforms life, and that does something new starting with the small.
First of all, let us dwell on the first two parables, similar to each other: a man finds something so valuable, he is full of joy, he goes, sells all that he has and then buys an incomparable treasure.
First of all the treasure, the pearl, is found (Mt 13:44,46). The treasure is not something that man does, but something that man finds, that he encounters on his way. And that is what makes it so valuable. The treasure exists already; it precedes man, but it’ss hidden. If man does not find it, the treasure risks remaining buried without bringing joy to anyone. It remains a treasure, but it does not enrich life. Instead, if man finds it, he acquires incomparable wealth.
In the first parable, the fortunate discoverer seems to come across the treasure almost casually; in the parable of the pearl, the discovery appears to be a fruit of a long and passionate search: the Kingdom is both for one and the other, equally. Everyone is called to discover it in his own way, and the ways are as many as are people on earth. The important matter is to find it.
Each person can, therefore, find it in a different way, but for all it is necessary to make a transition, of knowing that the treasure, the pearl – the Kingdom – have incalculable value, they are unique, they are the best of life: not a treasure like so many others. One must know that he has had a good “fortune” of having found something extraordinary, for which it’s worth selling everything (v46).
Both in one and the other case, it’s not enough to find it: one must purchase it.
And here the parable presents two oddities
The first odd thing is joy: the protagonist of the first parable is full of joy before even coming to finally possess his treasure. This is strange: it could be a time of anxiety, of trepidation, in waiting safely to buy it, of fear that someone might get it before him. Instead, no! What fills him with joy is the discovery of having found everything.
As to say that the greatest gift is to realize that this treasure is there, and that it can also be ours.
This is the discovery that fills life with joy, the great discovery that each one is called to make.
The second oddity is the price: the treasure and the pearl, do not of themselves have an exact price, as every other treasure, as every other pearl.
The price is everything: “… then he goes, full of joy, sells everything he has and buys the field” (Mt 13:44); and: “found a pearl of great value, he does, he sells everything he has, and buy it” (Mt 13:46).
Goods can be few or many, but to buy the treasure one must sell them all, because its value is exactly equal to everything that the respective future buyers possess, it’s worth the entire life.
What does it mean?
Perhaps the most exquisite exegesis of this passage is the life of the apostle Paul, as he himself tells it:
“The things that were a gain to me, I have counted as a loss because of Christ. Better still, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ: And may be found in him” (Phil 3:7-9).
When one discovers the newness of the life, he understands that all other riches, all other assets, are nothing.
It is not as if he himself is making a sacrifice, but he joyfully leaves his old way of living, thinking, loving in order to receive a fullness of life that nothing else and no one else could procure for us.
The last parable (Mt 12:47-50) speaks of a net that gathers together good and bad fish. The evangelist does not want to make a judgment, but only an ascertainment: the treasure is for everyone, but for everyone there is the possibility of closing oneself to the gift, or refusing to enter into a newness of life.
Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, that is, there will simply be death, which will only confirm the failure of a life that was unable to include and accept the gift.
One must do as the scribe, whom Matthew puts at the end of the seven parable of the Kingdom (Mt 13:52). The scribe was the scholar, the master, the sage par excellence. Well, even the scribe must himself become a disciple, and begin anew to humbly learn the mystery of the kingdom of heaven.
And oddly this scribe draws from his treasure first things new and then things old: first, at the level of priority, there is the newness of the Kingdom, and this newness will enlighten and fulfill the “things old”, promised and prophesied through the ages, without anything being lost.
Believers in every age received an old teaching, but it was called a re-finding the great treasure that was hidden in him, in his community. An old treasure, but if regained it becomes new and a source of joy.
Original version in italian