17th Sunday of the Year
I Kings 3:5, 7-12 Romans 8:28-30 Matthew 13:44-52
TODAY we conclude the distinguished collection of parables that constitutes the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel, with the closely-related parables of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price, and then the rather longer parable of the dragnet, with a concluding reflection by Jesus on the nature of the gospel message. The first two parables were probably not originally told at the same time by Jesus, since they make very much the same point, but Matthew has, sensibly enough, placed them together here. The common factor that the two share is a sense of priority: in both parables a person discovers something that is worth everything he possesses. The first man finds buried treasure in a field, and with scrupulous honesty goes and buys the title to ownership. The point, quite simply, is that the kingdom of heaven is worth everything you could possibly imagine, and someone who possesses it, even though he has nothing else, can regard himself as being in credit.
St Paul said something very similar: "I count everything as a good price to pay for the overriding value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord", and this truth has been constantly rediscovered by
Christians down the ages.
In the second parable, it is an expert who makes a very similar value-judgement: a merchant in quest of fine pearls. At last he finds the one of great price, and all that he had previously amassed seems worth sacrificing to obtain it.
Both these parables have a sense of the heady joy of discovery, of finding the one thing in life that really matters, and the idea of the sober-minded dealer in pearls making the commercial blunder of putting all his eggs in one basket is a pleasingly romantic one.
The third of today's parables has a rather different point. The net cast into the sea yields very much what you see when you look at the world around you, an undifferentiated mixture of good and bad; but when the net is full, it is brought to the shore, and the selection takes place: the good fish are gathered into containers, while the inedible, unclean, or otherwise worthless ones are "thrown out".
What is at issue here, therefore, is not the reaction of the individual to the claims of the kingdom, but the judgment that the kingdom will inevitably make on the individual: "so it will be at the consummation of the world: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the virtuous, and 1111.,,, • .:,,„; into the fiery furnace. In That place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth".