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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 24, 2011 (17A)
By Fr. Alex McAllister
In our Gospel today we are presented with three more parables about the nature of the Kingdom. The first two about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price tell us about the inestimable value of the Kingdom. The third one about the dragnet tells us about the great diversity of its make up.
I went up to Wotton-under-Edge Auction House the other day, I’d noticed it was viewing day and as I was in the vicinity went in to take a look. It’s a fascinating place; there were all kinds of interesting items of furniture as well as a lot of old crockery, jewellery, paintings and many other curiosities.
There’s only one day for viewing so the place was full of people examining the various items they were interested in and making notes in the catalogue.
I watched a chap examining a collection of rather old clocks. He had a magnifying glass in one eye and was carefully peering into the back of each of the clocks to see the state of the mechanism.
He reminded me of the merchant in the parable today looking for the pearl of great price. This clock dealer was using his expert knowledge to see which of the clocks were worth buying. And who knows, one day he might discover a clock worth thousands that no one else has recognised!
This is a very good image for the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is all around us but most people aren’t aware of it. But those of us who do realise that it is there do everything we can to possess it.
The majority of people only have the very haziest notion of the spiritual; they think that there might possibly be a God but don’t see much evidence of his hand at work in the world and so forget about him most of the time.
It is often only when there is a crisis that they bring him to mind, but because they are so unfamiliar with the things of the Spirit they don’t know how to pray or call upon his aid.
They don’t realise that one of the greatest signs of God’s presence in the world is the very fact that he doesn’t make himself overtly known.
Clear evidence of God’s presence is that he gives us the tremendous gift of free will and leaves us to make our own decision as to whether we acknowledge him or not.
Paradoxically it is God’s apparent absence that shows how great he is. He doesn’t need to press himself upon us and make himself known. Actually it would be a sign of weakness if he had to constantly advertise himself. He prefers anonymity and ambiguity, he wants us discover him for ourselves rather than force himself upon us.
In ordinary life to give an anonymous gift is regarded as something special. This is particularly the case when the gift is a large one. But most people, quite naturally, want a bit of credit and it is hard for them to resist the temptation to reveal who the giver is.
And yet there is a negative side to making oneself known because it can place an obligation on the receiver of the gift. They might feel that they have to be extremely grateful or obliged give something in return.
This is the very reason why God doesn’t advertise his presence overmuch. If he let us know just how much he has done for us we would feel under such a heavy obligation to him that we would be completely paralysed and wouldn’t be able to do anything other than praise and thank him for the rest of our lives.
In the person of Jesus God has revealed himself definitively to the world. Through Jesus he has shown us what he is like and makes the great sacrifice that takes our sins away. But there is no definitive proof of this; we are invited to take it on faith.
And so the choice rests with us. The invitation is placed before us and it is entirely up to us whether we accept it. We are invited to believe in all that Jesus told us and to embrace the Gospel as our way of life, but there is absolutely no compulsion.
It could be that those of us who have taken Jesus at face value have a special sensitivity to the things of the Spirit or perhaps it is that we are open to the action of God’s grace in our lives.
Whatever the reason, we have come to know God; we have come to appreciate that his Kingdom of love and peace is indeed the “pearl of great price” that we simply must possess.
But unlike the merchants in the story or the man in the auction house we do not only want to possess it for ourselves because we understand that the Kingdom of God is not that kind of thing. It is not something that can be limited only to us; it is something that in order to possess we must share with others.
This is one of the great paradoxes of the Gospel. To possess the Kingdom means to share our knowledge of it with others. To truly believe in Christ means leading other people to the same knowledge; for secret faith is no faith at all.
We need to be like the householder, mentioned at the end of our Gospel reading today, who brings out of his house things both new and old. We should be happy to bring out of the house that is our life all kinds of treasures to share with our neighbours.
But these treasures are not things like clocks and pearls but attitudes and virtues like love and justice and truth and hope and so on. What we bring out from our treasure store are the values of the Kingdom, the attitudes of Jesus and the knowledge of the one true God.