17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Three parables of the Kingdom of God
Discovering the signs of God in daily life
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:
Matthew 13:44: The parable of the hidden treasure
Matthew 13:45-46: The parable of the merchant looking for precious pearls
Matthew 13:47-50: The parable of the dragnet cast into the sea
Matthew 13:51-52: A parable to conclude the discourse of the parables
b) A key to the reading:
On this 17th Sunday of ordinary time we meditate on the three parables that make up the final section of the Discourse of the Parables: the hidden treasure, the merchant of precious pearls and the dragnet cast into the sea. Jesus’ parables help us adjust our sight to better see the presence of the Kingdom of God in the most ordinary things of life. As we read, it would be good to keep in mind the following: “What is for me a hidden treasure, a merchant of precious pearls or a dragnet cast into the sea? How does my experience help me understand the parables of the treasure, of the pearl and of the dragnet?”
c) The Text:
44 'The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field. 45 'Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; 46 when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.
47 'Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that is cast in the sea and brings in a haul of all kinds of fish. 48 When it is full, the fishermen bring it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in baskets and throw away those that are no use. 49 This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the upright, 50 to throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.
51 'Have you understood all these?' They said, 'Yes.' 52 And he said to them, 'Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What part of the text struck me most? Why?
b) In my experience of life, what do I understand by a hidden treasure, a merchant of precious pearls, or a dragnet cast into the sea?
c) How does this experience of mine help me understand the parables of the treasure, the pearl and the dragnet?
d) What difference is there between the parable of the treasure and that of the pearl?
e) What does the text say about the mission to be carried out as disciples of Christ?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context of the parables told by Jesus:
The Gospels contain many parables of Jesus. Matthew even says: “All these things Jesus said to the crowd in parables and did not speak to them unless in parables” (Mt 13:34). This was a common method of teaching used in those days. It was in this way that Jesus made himself understood by the people. In the parables, he starts from very ordinary things of life and he uses them as terms of comparison to help people better understand the less known things of the Kingdom of God. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus starts with three well-known things in the lives of people: the treasure hidden in the field, the merchant who seeks pearls and the dragnet that fishermen cast into the sea.
b) A commentary on the text:
Matthew 13:44: The parable of the hidden treasure
Here the term of comparison used to shed light on the things of the Kingdom of God is the treasure hidden in the field. No one knows that there is a treasure in that field. By chance, a man finds it. He did not know he was going to find it. He finds it and rejoices and gratefully welcomes the unexpected. The discovered treasure does not belong to him yet, it will be his if he succeeds in buying the field. Such were the laws in those days. So he goes, sells all he owns and buys that field. By buying the field he also acquires the treasure.
Jesus does not explain the parable. The same applies here as was said on previous occasions: “He who has ears to hear let him hear” (Mt 13:9.43). Or: “The Kingdom of God is this. You have heard. Now try to understand!” If Jesus does not explain the parable, nor will I. This is the task of each one of us. But I would like to offer a suggestion beginning from what I have understood. The field is our life. In our lives there is no hidden treasure, no precious treasure, more precious than all else. Will anyone who comes across such a treasure give away everything that he or she owns in order to buy this treasure? Have you found it?
Matthew 13:45-46: The parable of the merchant of precious pearls
In the first parable, the term of comparison is “the treasure hidden in the field”. In this parable, the accent is different. The term of comparison is not the precious pearl, but the activity, the effort of the merchant who seeks precious pearls. We all know that such pearls exist. What is important is not to know that they exist, but to seek them ceaselessly until we come across them.
Both parables have some common and some different elements. In both cases, it is about something precious: a treasure and a pearl. In both cases there is a finding of the object desired, and in both cases the person goes and sells all he owns so as to be able to buy the precious thing found. In the first parable, the finding is by chance. In the second, the finding is the result of the effort of seeking. Here we see two basic aspects of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom exists, it is hidden in life, waiting for those who will find it. The Kingdom is the result of a seeking (obtaining). These are the two basic dimensions of human life: gratitude of love that welcomes us and comes to meet us, and the faithful observance that brings us to meet the Other.
Matthew 13:47-50: The parable of the dragnet cast into the sea
Here the Kingdom is likened to a dragnet, not any kind of net, but a net cast into the sea and that gathers fish of all kinds. It is something typical of the life of those who were listening, most of whom were fishermen who lived by fishing. This is an experience they are familiar with, the casting of the net that gathers all, some good and some less good. The fisherman cannot prevent the less good fish to enter the net, because he cannot control what happens in the deep waters of the sea where he drags his net. He will only know when he pulls up the net and sits with his mates to sort the fish out. Then they will separate what is worthwhile from what is worthless. Again, Jesus does not explain the parable. He just gives a hint: “This is how it will be at the end of time”. Then the good will be separated from the evil.
Matthew 13:51-52: Conclusion of the discourse of parables
In Matthew’s Gospel, the discourse of parables ends with a brief dialogue between Jesus and his listeners and that acts as a key to the reading of all the parables. Jesus asks, “Have you understood all these?” The people reply, “Yes!” Then Jesus concludes with these very beautiful words, “Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old”. These closing words are another parable. “The things new as well as old that the householder brings out from his storeroom” are the things of the life that Jesus has just suggested in the parables: seeds cast in the field (Mt 13:4-8), the mustard seed (Mt 13:31-32), the leaven (Mt 13:33), the treasure hidden in the field (Mt 13:44), the merchant of precious pearls (Mt 13: 45-46), the dragnet cast into the sea (Mt 13:47-48). Each person’s experience of these things is his or her treasure. It is in such experiences that each person finds the term of comparison that will permit him or her to better understand the things of the Kingdom of God! Sometimes when the parables do not mean much to us and do not yield their message, the cause may not be a lack of study, but a lack of experience in life or a lack of depth in one’s life. Those who live superficially without any depth of the experience of life, have no storeroom from which to bring out things new as well as old.
c) A deepening: The teaching of the parables
The parables of Jesus are a pedagogical device that uses daily life to show us how the things of daily life speak to us of God. The parables make reality transparent and reveal the presence and action of God. They transform one’s sight into a contemplative gaze. A parable is about the things of life and thus is an open teaching that involves us. We all have experience of the things of life. The teaching in parables begins with a person’s experience of common things so as to be able to understand the Kingdom: seed, salt, light, sheep, flowers, woman, children, father, net, fish, treasure, pearl, etc.
Jesus did not usually explain his parables. Generally he ended with this phrase: “He who has ears to hear let him hear!” (Mt 11:15; 13:9.43), or, "That’s it. You’ve heard! Now try to understand!” Jesus left his parables open ended, he did not finish them. This is a sign that Jesus believed in the ability of people to discover the meaning of the parable starting from their own experience of life. Occasionally, at the request of his disciples, he would explain the meaning. (Mt 13:10.36). For instance, verses 36-43 explain the parable of the wheat and the weeds. It is also possible that these explanations are the reflection of the catechesis given to the communities of first Christians. The communities met and discussed the parables of Jesus, seeking to understand what Jesus meant to say. Thus, gradually, the teaching of Jesus started to be assimilated into the catechesis of the community and this then becomes an explanation of the parable.
6. Palm 19,7-14
The Law of Yahweh is perfect
The Law of Yahweh is perfect,
refreshment to the soul;
the decree of Yahweh is trustworthy,
wisdom for the simple.
The precepts of Yahweh are honest,
joy for the heart;
the commandment of Yahweh is pure,
light for the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is pure, lasting for ever;
the judgements of Yahweh are true,
upright, every one,
more desirable than gold,
even than the finest gold;
his words are sweeter than honey,
that drips from the comb.
Thus your servant is formed by them;
observing them brings great reward.
But who can detect his own failings?
Wash away my hidden faults.
And from pride preserve your servant,
never let it be my master.
So shall I be above reproach,
free from grave sin.
May the words of my mouth always find favour,
and the whispering of my heart,
in your presence, Yahweh,
my rock, my redeemer.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.