Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Seventeenth Sunday (27 July 2014)

Gospel for Seventeenth Sunday (27 July 2014)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into
baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. (Matthew 13:44-52)

Introductory notes

See also notes on the parables from Matthew 13 for Fifteenth Sunday and Sixteenth Sunday.

1. These three parable are unique to Matthew.

2. In Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, the Kingdom is variously likened to the sower sowing seed all over the place, the situation of darnel and wheat mixed together by an enemy, to be sorted out at the end, a mustard seed, yeast, the man who finds a treasure and another who finds the pearl of great price, then finally a net that is thrown into the sea and catches a whole lot of fish which have to be sorted out at the end. There is not even a hint of a definition here! Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like …..” The parable is an open door. We must enter it with our imaginations rather than our rational minds – and wait there, eager to be awakened. N T Wright says: “This chapter (13), with these parables, is the central point in Matthew’s gospel (note the way in which verse 53 echoes and prepares for the other section-endings: 7:28, 11:1, 19:1 and 26:1). As we saw at the end of chapter 7, the shape of the book is meant to look back to the old and familiar pattern, reminding the careful reader of the five books of Moses; but the book’s content is new and explosive.” (N T Wright, (2004). Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15, SPCK, 2004, 176.)

3. Going through the “open door” is primarily a work of lectio divina. But it is also a work of meditatio or study. We must, for example, seek to discover “ideas that may be supposed to have been in the minds of the hearers of Jesus during his ministry. …. (and) the meaning which we attribute to the parable must be congruous with the interpretation of his own ministry offered by Jesus in explicit and unambiguous sayings, so far as such sayings are known to us.” (C H
Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961, 18-19.) “We shall sometimes have to remove a parable from its setting in the life and thought of the Church, as represented by the Gospels, and make an attempt to reconstruct its original setting in the life of Jesus.” (C H Dodd, op cit, 85.)

4. N T Wright says of ‘the kingdom (of God/heaven)’: “Best understood as the kingship, or sovereign and saving rule, of Israel’s God yhwh, as celebrated in several Psalms (e.g. 99:1) and prophecies (e.g. Daniel 6:26f.). Because yhwh was the creator God, when he finally became king in the way he intended this would involve setting the world
to rights, and particularly rescuing Israel from its enemies. ‘Kingdom of God’ and various equivalents (e.g. ‘No king but God!’) became revolutionary slogans around the time of Jesus. Jesus’ own announcement of God’s kingdom redefined these expectations around his own very different plan and vocation. His invitation to people to ‘enter’ the kingdom was a way of summoning them to allegiance to himself and his programme, seen as the start of God’s long-awaited saving reign. For Jesus, the kingdom was coming not in a single move, but in stages, of which his own public career was one, his death and resurrection another, and a still future consummation another. Note that
‘kingdom of heaven’ is Matthew’s preferred form for the same phrase, following a regular Jewish practice of saying ‘heaven’ rather than ‘God’. It does not refer to a place (‘heaven’), but to the fact of God’s becoming king in and through Jesus and his achievement. Paul speaks of Jesus, as Messiah, already in possession of his kingdom, waiting to hand it over finally to the father (1 Corinthians 15:23–8; cf. Ephesians 5:5).” (N T Wright, (2004). Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15, SPCK, 2004, 214.)

   a. Matthew is the only one to use the expression, “the kingdom of heaven”. At the time of Jesus, the word “heaven” was common in Jewish usage as a way of referring to YHWH without mentioning the name.


In Mark’s Gospel two parables are introduced by “The Kingdom of God is like ….” – the parables of the seed growing secretly and the mustard seed, which is “the smallest of all seeds on earth” (see Mark 4:31).

In Luke’s Gospel there are also two parables introduced by the same words – the mustard seed and the leaven.

These same two parables, with a similar introduction, also appear in Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew there are eight other parables introduced with “the kingdom of heaven is like” – the parables of the darnel, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the fishing net cast into the sea, the unforgiving servant, the labourers in the vineyard and the ten virgins.

Given this witness of the three Gospels, we can be sure that Jesus gave these parables as ways of understanding what Mark calls “the mystery of the Kingdom of God” (4:11).

In the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus tell the religious authorities: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (17:20-21 – NRSV )

The Greek word, here translated as “among” is entos [ἐντός]. The KJV translates it as “within”. Both translations point to what Matthew seems to be implying with the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price: The Kingdom of God is already being realized in history and you can become part of that now! The
Kingdom is there, waiting.

In the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5:1-11) Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to the “poor in spirit” and to those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. Mark’s Gospel sounds a similar note: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”. (Mark 10:14)

Following the Beatitudes, later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urges his disciples to pray daily, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Judging from the repeated teachings of Jesus we may conclude that the Kingdom is a state of being in which love overcomes hate, the truth overcomes the lie, fragmentation will be replaced by communion. In other words, there is a healing – redeeming, saving – of the brokenness that besets the human heart and in fact runs through the entire cosmos.

This calls for the kind of self-emptying that Jesus epitomizes in his own life. The parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, both have people “selling all”! It is there discovery of the treasure or the pearl that sets them in motion. Why would they “sell all” if they had not glimpsed the Kingdom?

What could be of more value than a state of being in which love conquers hate, truth conquers the lie and communion replaces strife? Surely we have all glimpsed that? The invitation is to let that glimpse become a fully awake and transforming experience. Death will be the final awakening and transformation. But the awakening and transformation can begin long before that final breath is taken.

Every day, everywhere, even in the midst of action, we can be still within, listen and know the Presence (see Psalm 46:10).