John R. Donahue
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 28, 2002
We know that all things work for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28)

This Sunday concludes Jesus’ sermon in parables, with three kingdom parables and a covert reference to the Evangelist himself. The kingdom, or better God’s way of reigning, is first compared to the joy of unexpected discovery of a treasure in a field, which causes a person to sell everything and buy the field. Exegetes have filled volumes with Jesuitical attempts to absolve Jesus of counseling dishonesty, since the finder apparently should have told the owner of the treasure. Yet Jesus seems less concerned than the scholars about skirting the law. Elsewhere he praises the chicanery of a person who juggles the books (Lk. 16:1-8) and approves investing money at interest (Mt. 24:14-30). He also manifested a penchant for associating with low-lifesa drunkard and a glutton, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 11:19). The main point of the parable is not simply the decision to sell all to gain the treasure; it is the joy of discovery. The treasure of God’s forgiveness, when found in the proclamation of Jesus, releases hearers to respond without counting the cost.

The second parable of finding is somewhat different. Here a purposeful merchant has been looking, perhaps all his life, for a precious pearl; and when he comes across it, he sells all (no immorality here) to buy it. Though the joy of finding is presumed, the stress here is on the long and successful search. These two parables mirror peoples’ experience of discovering God’s love and forgiveness perhaps unexpectedly, or perhaps after a long search.

The third illustration, the net hauling in good and bad fish, is really an allegory about the final judgment and corresponds to the interpretation of the weeds and wheat (Mt. 13:36-43). Matthew thus brackets two parables of everyday experience with visions of the end-time, which warn against a precipitous separation of the good from the evil as well as a warning that the treasure and costly pearl of God’s reign should evoke a response of grateful and faithful discipleship.

People of a certain age will remember how Alfred Hitchcock always appeared in a cameo role in his films. The Evangelist Matthew makes such an appearance in the final verses of this chapter. He is the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new: stories and sayings that date back to the historical Jesus, combined with his own reflection and arrangement of this material to apply the Gospel to new situations faced by his community. What a legacy for those who hand on the faith today!

John R. Donahue, S.J., is the Raymond E. Brown Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at St. Mary's Seminary and University, Baltimore, Md.

Readings: 
Readings: 1 Kgs. 3:5, 7-12; Ps. 119; Rom. 8:28-30; Mt. 13:44-52
Prayer: 

• Prayerfully think of ways in which “mustard seeds” are growing into mighty bushes in today’s church.

• Pray about times when we were all too willing to separate the good from the bad

• Reflect on moments of joyful discovery of God’s “treasures” and “pearls” in your own life.