(See the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26.)
Jesus’ talk of hidden treasure reminds me of a humorous scene in the film “Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade.” In the beginning of the movie, Professor Indiana Jones is teaching his introductory archaeology class at Chicago University, impressing upon the students that most archaeology is done in the library through research, reading and studying. When it’s time to move to the field looking for a particular site or object, he urges them to “remember ‘X’ never, never marks the spot.”
Later in the film, when he himself is actually out in the field, he ends up in an old medieval library in Venice. He is looking for a set of Roman numerals marking the location of a particular item he seeks. He rushes up a set of stairs to the terrace overlooking the first floor. As he looks down, he sees the huge Roman numeral ten on the floor. He then gets a look of confusion on his face and mumbles: “’X’ marks the spot.”
When Jesus speaks of the “treasure buried in a field” or the “pearl of great price,” one important aspect is the “given.” The “given” or basis for the parable is that the treasure or pearl is there to be found. It’s a gift that has been given. When considering the parables, we might think in terms of the gift of the kingdom. Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God; the term St. Matthew uses in the Gospel is the “kingdom of heaven.” This is God’s vision, plan, and desire for all of creation, including human beings. To a certain extent the kingdom is already present. It is a gift that has been given; it just needs to be found.
The ultimate expression of the kingdom of God is Jesus himself. He shows us in his person, his actions and his words what it is like to live in the kingdom. As we seek him in all aspects of life, we begin to find the “hidden treasure” or the “great pearl.”
Sometimes this is like the old mystery story line “hidden in plain sight.” Jesus is ever present and ever real, always there. Seeking him in the Scriptures, not as a character in a story, but as a person in a relationship, is a sure way to find him.
The lives of the saints point us in this direction. We see in them great witnesses to the kingdom. These are persons who sought and found. And when they found this great treasure, they found life and love, and they never let it go. Indeed, their whole lives are transformed by the treasure itself. The gift, using another popular expression, is “the gift that keeps on giving.” The benefits never run dry.
The story about Solomon in the passage from I Kings gives us an example of the quest and the role of desire in seeking. The scene is set when the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream. The Lord, creator of the world, the liberator of Israel, the God of his fathers, tells Solomon that he could have anything he asks for. If we paused the reading here, we might ponder “What will Solomon ask for?” We might even be led to ask ourselves “what would I ask for?”
As we move on in the story, we realize that Solomon — rather than seeking riches or wealth, success or prestige, health or long life, or even peace and stability — asks for an “understanding heart” so that he could know right from wrong.
In other words, he is seeking to walk in the path God sets out for him and his people. He is the new king. He will lead the people for God, as his father David did. His request signals a desire. He wants to follow the Lord, the giver of all gifts, the giver of life, love and mercy. It’s a powerful story inviting us to likewise well up in our hearts the desire for the Good, a desire for God, a desire for life, a desire for love, a desire for truth; in Jesus’ words, a desire for “the Kingdom of God.”
Psalm 119 gives voice to one who has found the treasure as expressed in the covenant between God and Israel represented by the “law” or Torah. The response repeats the same message, in varied words: “Lord, I love your commands.” The psalmist writes: “The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces,” “Let your kindness comfort me,” “Let your compassion come to me that I may live,” “I love your command more than gold,” and “The revelation of your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple.” The psalmist rejoices in the great treasure he has found.
The kingdom of God is a great gift, like a treasure or a pearl of great price. From this gift, we experience the fullness of life, hence the Matthean formula “kingdom of heaven.” Jesus invites us to share in the gift that is always present and available, like God himself, who is (as St. Augustine writes in his “Confessions”) “ever ancient, ever new.” As Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and you shall enter” (cf. Matthew 7:7-8).
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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