I could have written last weekend, but I didn’t. It’s not that I did not have a thing to say, I did but I decided to do something else. Time often is a precious resource. I decided to do something other than write. My choice.
Today I write about what the kingdom of heaven is like Mt 13:44-52 . In the gospel readings that kingdom is likened to three things. First, an object of great value buried in a field. Second a pearl valued by a merchant. Third, a fisherman’s great catch. In each example the object of desire is appraised by its owner. The person who discovers an object in the field declares it a treasure, the merchant and fisherman do the same. They declare the object valuable. Granted society and culture often have a say in an objects net worth, and each object was valued by society. Jesus chose objects that were recognized as being of value. People often appraise an objects value. Capitalism thrives on appraised value, as do auctions. People are often appraised on looks, or intellect, or social status, or wealth. Objects are often appraised on supply and demand, or rarity, or the sum of its materials and labor.
Merriam-Webster defines Appraise as ” to set a value on : to estimate the amount of ” and “to evaluate the worth, significance, or status of; especially : to give an expert judgment of the value or merit of.” I like the word that is buried in that word Appraise, much like the treasure buried in the field. The word is Praise. Merriam gives a definition as ” to glorify (a god or saint) especially by the attribution of perfections” Sadly may glorify objects. Those the praise God are usually wiser. A little commentary there, actually quite a lot buried in a few sentences.
The stories also have an historical consideration, especially that one of finding a treasure in a buried field. Why, after finding one object, would the treasure hunter buy the entire field? That’s where history comes in. When a land was under attack people often buried their treasures in a field as protection from looting. If a valuable object was found buried in the dirt, chances there were more. Those treasures would belong to the landholder. Thus the importance of buying the land. Of course one could investigate the ethics of taking possession of a neighbors goods in such a manner, but who cares to bring up morals? Reburying something to hide it is an act of deception. Who cares! It’s the object that is valuable, not the ethics.
In the second example the merchant discovers a pearl of great wealth, and sells all he has to take ownership of it. The good news is that the merchant found what he had sought. The bad news was that he placed such a high value on an oysters pearl. Pearls are produced when a grain of sand enters and irritates an oyster’s flesh. I don’t know if they knew that in the first century. But the merchant had sold everything he had to possess it. Greed, gluttony, lust for an oyster’s irritant. Where does man place his value? Many do place such an incredible value on earthly goods, while ignoring the damage they can do to the soul.
Of course the story is about “The kingdom of heaven is like.” The point is that entering the kingdom requires this merchant’s single-minded devotion. Entry is not a half-hearted event. In both the story about the field treasure and the pearl, the value of the object is realized; and those folks will do absolutely anything to possess it.
The kingdom of heaven is like way more valuable than anything you dig up in a field, or find at a flea market. Oddly most people don’t realize that. They spend their lives rumbling through the garbage seeking some trinket of value, while ignoring an abundance of splendor in plain view. The kingdom of heaven isn’t tiny or hidden, its magnificence is in plain view. If only folks would assess its value.
That is the lesson from Jesus’s third example, the fisherman’s great catch. The fisherman certainly know that the harvest is valuable by its abundance. To realize that wealth they must make decisions. They must separate the good from the bad. They must make sound decisions. Look at the question given to King Solomon 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12. God tells Solomon “Ask me something and I will give it to you.” Solomon asks for the wisdom to make sound decisions. He didn’t ask for something that could be buried in the dirt.
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time