Matthew 13:44-46, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We have two very similar mini-parables in today’s Gospel reading, and the one thing they have in common is that their characters both find something and lose something. In the first one, a person digs up a valuable treasure in some field, and what does he do? He “loses it”: He reburies the treasure, sells all that he has, and buys the field.
(Now, why didn’t he just bring the treasure home? I wondered about that. Maybe there really was a lot of treasure!)
A second parable told in the same breath has a similar scenario: This time a merchant finds a pearl of great value, and, we’re told, he “loses it” too: He sells all that he has in order to buy it.
Both men find something and also lose something because while they have found something valuable, they also do lose all perspective as a result. The treasure and the pearl have suddenly become the most important thing in their respective lives, and they now won’t stop at anything to take possession of them. You could say each one of them has grown obsessed with that one object that they must have at all costs.
We know the feeling. We’ve all lost our perspective one way or the other. We’ve experienced stumbling over something–or someone–for which we were willing to do anything and even lose everything. We were ready to gamble everything away because at the time we were convinced–whether rightly or wrongly–that finally we had found that one thing that would be worth it all and we couldn’t afford to lose it.
In the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” the lead character is an orphan and immigrant who finds himself in New York and does everything to make a difference, to make a mark, and to leave what he calls his legacy. This legacy is the treasure and pearl over which Alexander Hamilton becomes willing to lose everything, including at a certain point–and much to his regret–his own family. His obsession is captured in one of the catchiest songs in the musical, “My Shot,” where he sings his mantra repeatedly: “I am not throwing away my shot.”
The message of our Lord’s twin parables is simply: “Careful the treasure you choose to lose everything for.” For there is only one thing that is worth losing everything for–and that is the kingdom of God. It’s interesting that the phrase “sell everything you have” is exactly what our Lord tells a rich young man who meets him and asks him what he ought to do to gain eternal life. The rich young man turns away, unwilling to sell all his possessions, because he fails to realize that before him is the one Treasure that is worth giving up everything for.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow, writes in the Spiritual Exercises: “We have been created to praise, reverence, and serve God.” The praise and service of God is the pearl that outshines and outvalues everything else. For this reason, we need to be indifferent to a long life or a short one, riches or poverty, health or sickness, for everything is but a means to this end of praising and serving God.
Let’s examine the treasures we hold and hoard in our lives. Are they in the way of the one true Treasure that is the only thing worth giving everything up for?