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"Treasures, Pearls, and Fish: What if...?" - A Scripture Reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Stephen Bevans, SVD | July 30, 2017

"Treasures, Pearls, and Fish: What if...?"
A Scripture Reflection for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 30, 2017: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

In today's gospel reading, Jesus offers three parable that describe "the kingdom of heaven," or his amazing vision for the world of healing, joyful friendship, and peace between creation and God, and human beings with each other and with the created world. The first two are very familiar to us, and quite challenging. They tell of "a person" who finds a treasure buried in a field and of a merchant who finds "a pearl of great price." In both cases, each one "sells all that he has" in order to purchase that ordinary looking field or that luminous pearl. The third parable is familiar as well, but always quite disturbing. We can't help ask ourselves which kind of fish we will be "at the end of the age."

Such wondering points to the fact that most people—myself included—have thought about these parables in terms of themselves: the gospel or our salvation is that hidden treasure or beautiful pearl. Those fish are us. If we want to find salvation or the meaning of the gospel we need to sell all we have to get it. "What does it profit a person to gain the whole world," Jesus said, "but lose her or his very self?" And if we don't sell all—well, we are like those fish that will be thrown away, like those wicked people who will be thrown "into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." So we had better chose wisely!

I think this is a fair interpretation. As I say, it is probably the interpretation that most people make, and I'll wager that most commentaries offer as well. But what if we think about the lucky farmer, the discriminating merchant, and the undiscriminating fishing net not in terms of ourselves, but in terms of God, and what if we think of ourselves in terms of the precious treasure, the costly pearl? We are still the fish in this new scenario, but the story might turn out differently if we imagine the net as God.

In the first two cases, what if we would imagine God as a person who is willing to sell everything in order to "possess us"—taking us into relationship and friendship, lavishing upon us mercy and love. This would dovetail with so many other parables that Jesus tells—in Matthew's gospel, but especially in Luke's—about a God who is eager, passionate, almost desperate to find us. As the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel insisted, much more significant than our search for God is God's search for us. Though Christ was rich, Paul writes, he became poor for our sake. Because he was in the form of God, he wrote to the Philippians, he emptied himself. John's gospel begins the passion narrative by affirming that Jesus loved us "unto the end." This is the deepest meaning of Paul's words in the second reading today about how God predestines. Predestination is not about a "secret plan" or "secret knowledge" about our fate—which fish will be thrown into the furnace. It's really about what God wants so deeply for us, and will work so hard—pouring God's self out—as God calls us, justifies us, and glorifies us. Yes, "all things work for good for those who love us," but these two parables today might show us that God also works through all things to get us to love God!

In the third parable, though, we are still the fish. But even bad fish with a chance! St. Augustine wrote that the church is like this great net that holds both good fish and bad, and that they will only be sorted out "at the end of the age." In the meantime, God is still in search of women and men, still selling all God has to possess them, still searching for that lost sheep, tearing the house apart for the lost coin, looking out every day for the prodigal son. As Pope Francis repeats over and over again, God never tires offering us mercy. God's name, he says, is Mercy.

If God is so passionate about pursuing us, perhaps the Wisdom of Solomon or the wisdom of the head of the household is to let ourselves be found. Perhaps wisdom too is to join in God's work by answering God's call to ministry in the net that is the church. Not so much to avoid the "fiery furnace," but to acknowledge the treasure and the pearls that we are—and the unfathomable treasure and pearl that is God.

The above image is from the Public Domain.
Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Books written by Steve Bevans

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