Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


July 25-26, 2020, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

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!”.

How we interpret a story or an event often has more to do with our preconceptions or attitudes than what the story actually says or what actually happened in the event. What about the stories that we just heard Jesus tell his disciples? As Jesus told us in last week's Gospel: He who has ears ought to hear! How does our preconceptions 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 person 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. Just think of the two parables about sowing seed these past two weeks, or the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan. So I suggest that this is true of these two parables as well. God is the one who has found a treasure, the pearl of great price. We, all of creation, but especially humans, are the buried treasure or the pearl. God then sells all he has, his only begotten son, in order to purchase this treasure that God has found so that it won't be lost again.

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.” It is a gift from God who sent Jesus into the world, not to condemn it, or to put up obstacles between us and God, but to save it. Instead of trying to figure out how to earn our way into the kingdom of heaven, we should be focused more on responding to this God who loves us so much.  As long as we hear these parables in the framework of the economic 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 find it so much easier to point out how others 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 save us. The other parable Jesus tells us today reminds 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 strategy and 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 of reconciliation. In these pandemic times we don't have easy access to the sacrament of Reconciliation. But Reconciliation like all the sacraments is not just what happens at a moment in time or in the act of the rite. We need to prepare for celebrating Reconciliation so that we can fully respond the grace of the sacrament. So as we continue to fast from the sacrament of Reconciliation I pray that all of us 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, especially in the way Jesus commands us to, by loving one another. Let's look around at how our actions, or words, or attitudes have affected our relationships and work on mending them. That’s what those made in the image of God who is love do. Then, when we can celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation, we will be much better prepared to really reconcile with God for how halfheartedly we have responded to His love up to now and to more effectively live out of the grace of the sacrament in the coming days, weeks, months. And don't forget in all of this, as the story that Thomas Wheeler tells us, our value lies not so much in what we earn, or do, or have as it does in knowing who it is who loves us.

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