Friday, July 25, 2014

Homily: The 17th Sunday of the Year: 2014 (second attempt)

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field . . .  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls

As some of you may know, I occasionally teach banjo lessons and I am afraid I have just lost my star banjo student; she moved back to California, poor girl, and in fact she was my only banjo student. The truth is I never take on more than one banjo student at a time. I get plenty of inquiries.  Who wouldn’t want to learn how to play the banjo? It is  cheaper than a therapist and mpre effective. But it is my  experience has taught me that more often than not teaching banjo is waste of my time and a waste of the student’s time and money. Wanting something is not same thing as working to get it.  I do not have the time to teach a bunch of folks; I have a day job, as you know, and I do not need the money. But I am very interested in passing on what I have learned. So I interview prospect students and if they have gone to the trouble of listening to banjo music – most of them haven’t by the way – and will make a commitment to listen and to practice, which basically means that they will agree to become obsessive compulsive about the banjo, I might take them on. When they ask me what I charge I have learned to say ‘pay what it is worth to you’ and I have never regretted saying that.

In two of the parables in the Gospel this Sunday Jesus asks us ‘what is it worth to you? What is the kingdom of heaven worth to you?’ In the first parable a man sells all he has to build a field in which a treasure is hidden. In the second a merchant, read:  greedy capitalist some would say, also sells all he has to invest in one pearl of great value. You do not need me to tell you that kingdom of heaven is expensive and way beyond my means or your means.  Jesus says it costs everything.

But that is not all these parables tell us. Of course eternal life, to know God, to love Him, to serve Him and to enjoy Him forever involves sacrifice and how could it be any cheaper than everything we have? Note what Jesus says “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field”. Giving up the things that we cannot imagine we can do without, detachment from the merely transitory, freedom from the need to acquire more and more is not only the way to get to heaven; it is the way to enjoy life right now, to be joyful, to be happy. The life of every saint is the proof. A Saint is not someone who gave everything up and then was miserable and made everyone else miserable. The Saints realized that they were going to lose everything anyway; to bet on He Who Is, He who cannot not be was a common sense wager. Saints who went without were full of joy because they realized that they had nothing to lose and everything, quite literally everything to gain, for that is what heaven is, that is what God is.

The saints were shrewd men and women just the like man going after the treasure hidden in the field. The parable does not spell it out but we can guess that the man did not tell the owner of the field about the hidden treasure.  Not exactly exemplary behavior but shrewd nonetheless and in his own self-interest. Sacrifice is in our own interest. It is in our self-interest to let go of all those resentments, jealousies, envy, determination to control others, our discontents our love of things, our hatred of people and all the rest. It is not that God will not let us in heaven, if we don’t, it’s that we wouldn’t be happy there, we would not fit in. “What is heaven worth?”

All this is obviously the point of the second parable as well, the merchant in search of fine pearls. But there is a bit different emphasis in this parable. We are all looking for something, for something that will make us happy, complete and at last satisfied. Fine pearls. But the merchant finds ‘one pearl of great value’. We are running around as fast as we can chasing a million dreams and fantasies, even though we know if we were to catch one, we would drop it and chase yet another. But what if we were to find the one pearl, the pearl that satisfies all our longing, fills all our emptiness and before which we can at last rest. As St. Thomas Aquinas says “this all men cal God.” “What is He worth to us?”

With these parables Jesus loves us into his Kingdom. But there is another parable in the Gospel this Sunday and a much less attractive one. “a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad”. With this parable Jesus frightens us into his Kingdom. He is determined to make us citizens of the Kingdom and sometimes all that will work his considering the alternative.

“So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth”.

If it is really the trashcan of the universe that we prefer, the endless rat race, endless movement that gets us nowhere, perpetual anger, resentments never overcome, sins never forgiven, looking and never finding, there is a provision for that as well. “What is it worth to you to avoid that?”

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field . . .  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls

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