From the Pulpit: July 29, 2017 Deacon Clark

Our readings today really highlight an overarching
theme—wisdom.  Of course, we have all heard the great story of King
Solomon: how he was permitted to ask the Lord for one blessing and
instead of wealth, power or riches he asked our Lord for wisdom.

Scholars suspect that King Solomon was likely about twenty
years old when he took over the kingdom of Israel from his father,
David.  Solomon would rule over ancient Israel in one of the greatest
and most prosperous peacetimes known to Israel.  War was uncommon and
wealth was plentiful.  It was a good time to be king.

But despite all these blessings of peace, prosperity and
unparalleled wisdom, we also know the rest of the story of King
Solomon.  As wise as he was—the wisest man of his time—he still was
unable to offer his full  heart to the Lord.  As we know from the
Scriptures, King Solomon married a number of foreign women and to
please these many pagan wives he erected pagan shrines to false gods!
This greatly upset the Lord, understandably; but how odd that the
wisest man was unable to stay faithful to the Lord who gave him so
many blessings.

What of us, then, who will never be as rich, powerful or
wise as the great king Solomon?

In our Gospel reading, we hear more about what God has to say about
wisdom, in the form of three parables.  In the first parable, we hear
of a man who goes out and discovers a treasure hidden in a vacant
field.  Because of the political unrest in the region of Israel at
this time, it is not unsurprising that a poor Israelite might seek to
keep valuable coins and possession safe from frequent invaders and tax
agents.  They would do this by burying valuables in unsuspecting
places.  In this first parable, one lucky individual stumbles upon a
treasure forgotten by its former owner.  The man recognizes the
extreme value of the hidden treasure and does what you or I might do:
sell everything we own so as to be able to buy the field and then
lawfully lay claim to the buried treasure.

Jesus then offers a second, similar, parable.  In this parable, a
merchant goes out in search of valuable pearls; and, upon coming
across the most valuable of pearls, he, like the first man, sells
everything he owns so as to become the rightful owner of this
unbelievably priceless treasure.

Obviously, these two parables are quite similar: in both cases, we
have someone finding something of unbelievable value and which they
recognize that value immediately.  But what is likely more interesting
is how these two parables are dissimilar.  While one man just happens
to stumble the treasure buried out in a field the other was actively
searching for fine pearls.  While both men came to possess
superabundant wealth, they came about it in different ways.

These parables suggest to us that faith is the greatest treasure any
of us will ever come by.  Some of us, like the first man, simply
stumble upon our faith by pure luck.  Maybe we were just lucky enough
to be born Catholics or maybe we happened to marry someone who was
already Catholic.  Others of us have had to hunt for our Catholic
faith—as did the man who went hunting for the finest of pearls.

But, no matter how you or I have come by our faith, if we are ever to
exceed Solomon in wisdom, we will do well to emulate the men in both
parables by single-mindedly leaving behind anything and everything
that stands in the way of possessing the one thing that really
matters: a life of faith in Christ.

And this brings us to the third parable we read in today’s Gospel.
After giving the parable of the pearl and the treasure, Jesus likens
heaven to a giant net cast into the sea in which all types of fish
have been gathered.  When the net is emptied, some fish prove to be
good and others bad.  The good fish, Jesus says, are kept while the
bad fish are cast away.  Jesus then interprets His own parable for the
disciples and says that so too will it be for us humans at the end of
the world.  The good ones will be separated out from the evil ones.

In the final analysis, then, what are we to make of these readings
that the Church has given us to reflect upon this week?  First, we
must know that the greatest treasure that any of us will ever possess
is faith—faith in the Triune God that we will proclaim our belief in
here in a few short moments.  No matter how you come by faith, by luck
or by searching, it is always a gift from God for which we must be
truly grateful.

Second, faith alone is not sufficient.  As you might be aware, this is
a belief that separates us from many of our Protestant coreligionists.
Catholics believe that while faith is absolutely necessary, so too are
good works.  In both parables, it was not enough to simply see, to
think about or to even adore the treasure or the pearl; quite the
contrary, both parables involved extreme self-sacrifice to attain the
treasure.  Both parables speak of how everything had to be sold in
order to possess the one treasure worth having. When we read this in
conjunction with Jesus’ warning that not all fish in the net will be
saved, the message of Christ becomes clear: it is not enough to simply
believe in God, we must also act on this belief.

And this, as it turns out, is the same great lesson of Solomon: that
it is not enough to be wisest, richest or most powerful person on
earth if this is not supported by a life of righteousness.  The real
lesson today is that true wisdom, the knowledge of God’s ways, is to
be found in that man or woman who not only knows and loves God but
serves Him.

To close, I thought I might share with you four tidbits of wisdom
that I use in my own life to ensure that I am living not just in faith
but also in action.  As they say, even Satan believes in God but it
was his actions that cost him so much.

1)    If you get your oil changed more often than you go to
Confession, this is a problem.  One should never have a soul darker
than the oil your the car.

2)    If you have celebrated more birthdays than you have read books
of the Bible, this should be a red flag.  We humans only live so long
and there are 73 books in the Bible.  This is a project best not left
to the end, especially when you factor in things like bifocals and
cataracts.

3)    If you spend more money on vacations than you do on charitable
causes, you have missed the whole point of the Gospel—true treasure
will not be found on this earth but in the next.

4)    If you exercise more in a week than you pray, your body will be
stronger than your soul.  Our bodies will each shrivel up and die, but
our souls will live on for eternity: much better to enter heaven with
a strong soul than a bulging biceps.

My dear brother and sisters, I thank you again for a truly impactful
and blessed here in your parish community and I pray that none of us
may ever forget that action is the hallmark of the Gospel
message—conversion of life for God—we see it in these parables, we see
it in beatitudes, but we see it most clearly in the outpouring of
Christ’s own Body and Blood, which you and I are about to eat and
drink this very day