17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. July 30, 2023


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A. July 30, 2023

1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Romans 8: 28-30; Matthew 13: 44-52


Theme: Our Personal Relationship with God is the Kingdom of God that We Must Look For

We have been reading ch. 13 of Matthew’s Gospel called the “Mystery Sermon” for three Sundays in a row. This is a collection of Jesus’ seven parables about the kingdom of heaven. On Sunday, July 16th, we heard the first one, the parable of the Sower. Last Sunday, we meditated on the next three (the parables of the Weeds, Mustard Seed, and Yeast). And today, we read the last three (the parables of the Hidden Treasure, Pearl, and the Net). It is important to note that parables are riddles that take the form of fictional stories designed to engage the audience in active thought. In most of them, though not all, Jesus commences with a phrase like “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. So, parables are comparisons to illustrate the kingdom of heaven. It is also important to note that in these seven parables, Jesus does not speak of the kingdom consummated in the world to come, but rather, he speaks of the kingdom manifested on earth as the Church.

Let us briefly recall what the previous four parables taught us. The first one, the parable of the Sower, talks about a Sower (who represents Jesus and anyone who is his disciple, like priests, deacons, nuns, parents, teachers, and catechists) who while sowing the seeds (which are the Words of God), they fell on four different types of soil: the path, rocky ground, thorns, and rich soil. These four sorts of soils represent our hearts depending on how we act when we receive the Word of God. First, our hearts are like the “path” when we do not understand the Scriptures that we read or listen to. To solve this problem, we should love the Bible, have enough time for God in prayer and ministries, and attend the Weekly Bible Study on Sunday’s Gospels with me that will start soon in our Church. Second, our hearts are like “rocky ground” when we abandon Jesus’ mission for fear of all those who discourage, mock, criticize, and persecute us because we are Christians. To solve this situation, we should not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, says Jesus (see my homily of June 25th). Third, our hearts are like “soils with thorns” when we let our worries, anxieties, and the lure of riches choke the Word of God. Note that worries, anxieties, and the lure of riches arose when we do not accept suffering as part of our Christian lives. So, to fix this problem, we should accept suffering with courage, faith, and hope. And fourth, our hearts are like “rich soils” when we read and listen to the Word of God and produce much fruit.

The next three parables that we heard last Sunday are the parables of weeds, mustard seed, and yeast. The parable of the weeds taught us that God allows evil people to live alongside good people in our societies and Churches. God is a merciful Father; he gives us a second chance to repent. In our turn, we are called, not to judge, but to give a second chance to those who sin against us. The final judgment, eternal condemnation in hell, and eternal salvation in heaven are not fake news but realities. At the end of time, we will be judged based on our deeds. Let us repent now. In the parables of the mustard seed and yeast, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (this “smallest of all the seeds”) that, after sown in a field and when full-grown, becomes a large bush (“the largest of plants”). The birds of the sky come and make their dwelling in its branches. Again, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven with the yeast that is mixed with three measures of wheat flour and leavens the dough. Note that in these two parables, Jesus uses hyperbole because the mustard seed is not the smallest of all the seeds and does not become the largest of plants. Also, three measures of wheat flour likely would have amounted to forty to sixty pounds of flour. And when leavened, it would create an enormous amount of bread. Jesus employs hyperbole in these two parables to mean that the heavenly kingdom starts very small but will grow beyond imagining. This illustrates how he commenced his Church; it was very small. Over time, this Church, despite all persecutions and sins committed by its leaders and members in the course of history, has grown and continues to grow beyond imagination. Our local Church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, is the manifestation of the heavenly kingdom that Jesus compares with a mustard seed. Although it is “small” in terms of its members, we are called to make it grow and become a “large bush” by inviting more members to join us (and former members to come back) and by strengthening our relationships with God and with one another. Our local Church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, is also compared with yeast that is mixed with flour which represents all of us. The yeast leavens us and makes us become an enormous amount of “spiritual bread” to spiritually feed the people of God in our community, neighborhoods, and families.

Now, the last three parables are those that we heard today: the parables of the hidden treasure, pearl, and net. It is important to recall that the heavenly kingdom in these parables, is not only in the world to come but starts here in our present time. It is the way of grace in our hearts and the rule of God in the world. The heavenly kingdom is the place (our societies, families, neighborhoods, Church, and hearts) where God must reign, especially in the hearts of each of us. The parables of the hidden treasure and pearl define the kingdom of heaven as the treasure or fine pearls that we must look for. Our first reading identifies it as “Wisdom”. In the Old Testament, Wisdom stands for God. So, Salomon did not ask for a long life for himself, nor for riches, nor to end the lives of his enemies (see the parable of the weeds), but he asks for his personal relationship with God (see 1 Kings 3: 7-12). Therefore, the kingdom of heaven that you and I need to look for is our one-on-one relationship with God.  

Notice the little distinction between the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl. In the first parable, the person was working in a field that did not belong to him. His work did not consist of looking for that treasure. He found it by chance. While, in the second parable, the merchant, not only was looking for the pearls, but also, he knew which one he needed, the fine ones. The first case concerns all those who have not started a personal relationship with God yet. Maybe we come to Church, but we did not know that God expects each one of us to be in a one-on-one relationship with him. This is the treasure that we discover today. In the second case, Jesus speaks of those who already have a personal relationship with God. If you and I already have one, Jesus here calls us to deepen and strengthen it. These two parables teach us that our personal relationship with God is precious. We must do everything that it takes to have it and strengthen it. Let us learn from what the man and the merchant of our parables did once they discover their treasure and fine pearl.

The first parable tells us that the field where the man discovered the treasure did not belong to him. Legally, everything under it belongs to the owner of the field. Likewise in the second parable, the fine pearl did not belong to that merchant. To own their precious things, they decided to sell everything that they had to purchase the field and the fine pearl. At this Mass, we discover our treasure, which is our personal relationship with God, the kingdom of heaven. But we need to commence a project to own it. Our project, first, consists of getting rid of sins because sin distances us from God and brings us closer to Satan. If we continue living in the state of sins, which means under the control of Satan, the heavenly kingdom that we have discovered will not belong to us. So, we first need to repent and dedicate our lives to God. We need to let God take control of our lives.

Second, our project consists of “selling” all that we have and “buying” our personal relationship with God. The two people in our parables sold all that they had and purchased what was the most valuable of their lives. On one hand, selling something means that the object sold no longer belongs to us. We lost it. On the other hand, purchasing something denotes that we become the legal owners of the object bought. We earn it. Therefore, since the kingdom of heaven, our personal relationship with God, is the supreme value of our life, then we must sell (lose) all that we have and purchase (earn) it. “Selling or losing all that we have” here does not mean that we must get rid of things that we like. Rather, it means that we should no longer consider them as our priorities. Our sole and unique priority is our personal relationship with God. Then we need to understand the balance between all that we have (our blessings: good life, friends, families, riches…) and God who is the giver of those blessings. Do we focus more on the blessings or on God, the Giver? Which one is our priority: all that we have or God who blesses us with what we need? Our priority should be God and our relationship with him. This is what Salomon looked for in our first reading.

God commanded Solomon to ask for something. Solomon, who recently ascended the throne of David, describes himself as “a mere youth” and does not know “how to act” (1 Kings 3: 7). From the Hebrew word “na’ar”, youth or child denotes a young adult who lacks experience in a job. In our context, it means a person who is not in a personal relationship with God. Solomon asks for wisdom. Note that in the Old Testament, Wisdom stands for God. To search wisdom is to search God. King Solomon chose to be in a relationship with God to better govern his people.

Living in a personal relationship with God predestines our heavenly life at the end of time. In the second reading we heard, Saint Paul reminds us that since the beginning of time, God worked all things together for the advantage of all those who love God. Who are “those who love God”? They are those who are in one-on-one relationships with God. Christians who are in this relationship with God are those whom Saint Paul speaks of as predestined, called, justified, and glorified. In other words, they are like good fish collected and put into buckets as says Jesus in our third parable. But those who do not want to consider their personal relationship with God as their priority, are like the bad fish, the wicked, who will be thrown into the fiery furnace where they will be wailing and grinding of teeth at the end of time.

I would like to paraphrase Jesus by asking the following question: Do we understand all these things? (Matthew 13: 51). May the liturgy of this Eucharist help us to understand that we, Christians, are called to look for our personal relationship with God and always strengthen it. By doing so, we will be among the “good fish”, the righteous, who will see God face to face in the heavenly kingdom when it will be fully accomplished in the world to come. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD


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