For the last two weeks, we have been hearing Jesus’ parables from the Gospel of Matthew. Today is part three of our trilogy of parables, and here they come, rapid fire, about the Kingdom of Heaven. We get three parables in our gospel passage today, and we even get a bonus lesson at the end, like the bonus content on the extended version DVD release of the trilogy.
The three parables are:
- The treasure in the field
- The pearl of great price
- The dragnet and the fish
And bonus content:
- the head of the household, bringing wine out of his cellar.
Let’s break down each of these parables and see what is similar and what is different.
In the first parable, the treasure in the field is hidden in the ground. Presumably, we have a farmer of some sort, who would be naturally digging and plowing the field. Then, purely by chance, he finds the treasure. It was there all along, without him noticing it as he went about his daily work.
Have this ever happened to you? I had a similar experience a couple of months ago—I was snooping around in the cabinets and drawers in the sacristy (at Nativity parish) when I happened upon a barrel filled with beautiful altar frontals. As I was pulling them out, I thought, “Wow, these are great! We have to start using them.” I also pulled out a large, and rather strange golden piece of cloth. “What is this?” I thought. Turns out it was the old canopy used for Eucharistic processions. And indeed, that was the one we used this year in our Corpus Christi procession. A treasure, and it was there all along.
The Kingdom is like that treasure. For the Kingdom is a matter of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is the love of God. The Kingdom is here, hidden in our midst, even when we don’t even realize it. Sometimes when we feel lost and alone, we realize the great love God has bestowed upon us in being called sons and daughters of God.
There’s another detail to point out here. The man goes and sells everything he has just to buy that field that contains the treasure. He realizes that nothing in his life matters more than this treasure. That’s what we realize about the Kingdom of Heaven—it means everything to us, and so it requires our total commitment. Nothing else we pursue in this life will mean as much as inheriting the joy of Heaven. That is why Jesus also said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I hear amazing stories of folks who, coming into the Catholic Church, realize the truth of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Here was Jesus, all along, waiting to be discovered. Many of them have to make great sacrifices to leave the denomination they were raised in to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. Sometimes this comes at great price, since it can mean strained relationships with family members. Still, they come in with great joy, knowing that they have found that treasure in the Holy Eucharist.
In the second parable, the merchant finds the pearl of great price. This one is almost like the first, because he sells everything he has and buys the pearl. However, what is different about this parable is that the merchant went looking for the pearl.
I can liken this merchant to someone like a C.S. Lewis, who spends a good part of his life as an atheist or agnostic, searching for meaning in life, who initially scoffs at Christianity. Yet, because we are all made for the truth, and we all desire to know the truth and have some worldview that gives meaning to our life, we go out in search. And then, like C.S. Lewis, some of us find that truth and that meaning. We realize that the world makes sense in the light of God’s self-revelation to man, and his manifestation in the person of Jesus Christ. It all fits together, and it satisfies the deep longings of the human heart.
Maybe one of these parables is your story too. Maybe you’ve gone searching for the pearl of great price, and you have found it here in the Church. Or maybe you were raised Catholic, and didn’t know what a gift it was until just recently. Either way, you have found that treasure, the center of your life, and you have made the decision to be a disciple of Jesus. And that means living in a new and different way. How are we to live this new life? For that, we turn to the third parable.
The third parable is about the dragnet. “The story you are about to hear is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Wait, sorry, wrong dragnet. No, this dragnet is a net that is tugged thru the water to catch all kinds of fish. But before we get to this one, let’s take a look back at the first reading.
In the first reading, King Solomon asks for the ability to judge the people with understanding and wisdom, and to be able to tell what is right and what is wrong. He wants to be a good ruler, and he recognizes that he is reigning not just over his own subjects, but over God’s people. If he wanted to be simply another tyrant, he could have asked for an obedient and submissive people. If he wanted to be a hero, he could have asked for his enemies to be defeated. If he wanted fame and power, he could have asked for great conquests. But instead, he asks for wisdom.
Solomon recognizes that he is human. No human can live forever, and no earthly king can rule forever. He is a caretaker, a steward of God’s people. As such, he knows that God, who is perfectly righteous, perfectly just, will be the ultimate judge of his people. It is God alone who will decide who is fit to inherit eternal life.
And so it is in Jesus’ third parable today. The fish are caught and hauled in, and the fisherman judges the fish. The good ones he keeps, the bad ones he throws away.
We have to note here that this word that Matthew uses, “bad ones,” is really the word for “rotten,” as in the rotten tree bearing rotten fruit. It’s clear, then, that Jesus is talking about those who bear rotten fruit—those who commit evil deeds.
You see, in the end we will be judged by our righteousness in this life. That is, by our good deeds, that bear good fruit. Those whose deeds are evil, and who bear rotten fruit, will face their judge, and he will cast them into the fire. But those whose deeds are righteous, who have sought the Kingdom of Heaven AND show it in all that they do, they will be gathered into the Kingdom.
The message is clear: we are called to seek the Kingdom of Heaven, first and foremost. The Kingdom must be first in our lives, and the beauty of it is, when our pursuit of the Kingdom is the most important thing in our lives, all the other things fall into place. Our anxieties are calmed because we rely on God. Our stress melts away, knowing that God is in charge. Our hunger and thirst for justice is finally realized in God.
We long for that Kingdom because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this world is very far from perfect. We face constant injustices and evils in this world, and it causes us to ask God, “why?” We ask why because we are not made for evil and wrongdoing, we are made for good and justice. Evil does not make sense to us. When we experience great evil, we cry out in our suffering. How can this be part of God’s plan? The truth is, the ultimate meaning of our suffering is often hidden from us. Yet, we rest in the promise of this parable today, that God will indeed have mercy on the just and wrath upon the evildoers. In the end, in the Kingdom of Heaven, it will finally make sense. We can draw comfort from the words of Saint Paul: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose.”
God is preparing his Kingdom for us. A kingdom of justice, righteousness, good, beauty, truth and unity. And God is preparing us for the Kingdom, by calling us to act with justice, pursue the good, produce the beautiful, speak the truth, and work for unity. These righteous ones he calls into the Kingdom of Heaven.
We who have been instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven, are like that host who brings both old and new wine up from the cellar. We look back to Scripture and Tradition to see what God has done in the past. And we look around us now to see what God is doing in our lives today.
The Kingdom of Heaven will be revealed on the Last Day, at the end of time. But it is also present to us even now in these subtle, hidden ways. Today, take a moment to notice the ways that the Kingdom of God is at hand, here and now.
It just might have been right there, all along.
 cf. Romans 14:17
 1 John 3:1
 Matthew 10:39
 Matthew 7:17
 Romans 8:28