Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


July 23-24, 2005, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

How we interpret a story or an event often has more to do with our preconceptions than what the story actually says or what actually happened in the event. Thomas Wheeler, former CEO of MassMutual, tells this story about himself. Thomas and his wife were taking a car trip when he noticed that they were getting low on gas. He pulled off the highway and found a little country service station with one pump. He asked the attendant to fill it up and check the oil, and then strolled around the station to stretch his legs. As he returned he saw the attendant in an animated conversation with his wife. The conversation ended as he got back to the car and paid the attendant. As they pulled away from the station, the attendant waved and yelled to his wife, “It was nice to see you again.” Thomas asked his wife if she knew the attendant. She said that she did; in fact, they had dated for the better part of a year back in high school.

At this, Thomas laughed and only half jokingly said, “Aren’t you glad I came along? You could have been married to a service station attendant.” His wife, more seriously, responded, “Oh no, if I had married him, he would have been the CEO of MassMutual!”.

What about the stories that we just heard Jesus tell his disciples? How does our preconception affect the way we interpret these stories? The first two parables, the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, are very similar. The main character in each story has found something that is very valuable. In each case, that man goes off and sells all he has to buy the field with the treasure or the pearl. Who does that main character stand for? What does the treasure or the pearl represent? The usual way we interpret this is that the treasure or the pearl represent the kingdom of God, and the point is that the kingdom of God is so valuable that we should give up everything we must to possess it. But is that what Jesus meant? When you think of all the other parables that Jesus tells explaining what the kingdom of God is like, the main character does not represent us, but rather represents God. So maybe this is true of these two parables as well. God is the one who has found a treasure or a pearl of great price. We, all of creation, are the buried treasure or the pearl. God then sells all he has, his only begotten son, in order to purchase this treasure God has found.

The kingdom of heaven is not some prize that we must compete for and earn. It is a gift from a God who looks at all creation and says, “It is very, very, good.” The God who sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn it, or to put up more obstacles in it, but to save it. Instead of getting involved with trying to figure out how to earn our way into the kingdom of heaven, we should be focused on responding more to the God who loves us so much.  As soon as we cast our idea of the kingdom of God into the model of our culture, we start focusing on how much we have to pay, and looking around to see if anyone is getting more than what we think is a fair share. We start getting legalistic about what is right and wrong, what is sin and what isn’t. We find it so much easier to point out how others, that politician or those neighbors, are sinning than it is to look inside our hearts and see if we are responding correctly to someone who loves us enough to trade everything they have to have us. The other two parables Jesus tells us today remind us that it is not our job to judge others, to decide who is in and who should be out. Along with the parable of the weeds and the wheat, they remind us that God has a much different timetable for sorting out good and evil from the one we feel compelled to impose on everyone else.

What does this mean to us? How does this have anything to do with how we live out our faith? Of course it has everything to do with it, but I will suggest one very practical effect: how (or maybe I should say whether) we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. The fact that most of us do not says one of two things: either we don’t think we have been “that bad” that we need reconciliation, or we think we are so bad that even God could never forgive us. Reflecting on these parables, we can become wise and understanding like Solomon. Instead of running down the commandments in our mind to see what we need to confess, I would suggest that we reflect very seriously on how much God loves us, as revealed in these parables, and then think about what in our lives stands in the way of loving God back with the same all out love with which we are loved. Then go to confession to reconcile with God for how halfheartedly we have responded to this love up to now and to ask for God’s help in overcoming that obstacle. That’s what lovers do. You see, just as the story about Thomas Wheeler tells us, our value lies not so much in what we earn or do but so much more so in who it is that loves us.

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