17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Buried in a Field...

"...a treasure buried in a field"

We all look for good deals. We search for products with the best track records; we'll spend countless hours visiting different merchants, comparing prices all so that we may get the most for our money. We want our investments to yield good interest, our stocks to produce the highest return. But every now and then, there comes a situation that is beyond any "bargain," worth every dollar, and worth any risk.

So we should be able to understand the importance of today's Gospel parable:

Jesus speaks of hidden treasure and pearls of great price - sought after for many years, finally found and obtained at great cost and great risk. Thus is the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven - a treasure freely given, a gift of great value.

Our natural talents, our faith and the everyday circumstances of our life are all gifts of God - part of His investment in us. He looks for a return, with interest. He expects us to put our gifts to good use - to perfect them, to share them, to use them to renew our world according to the Gospel.

The beautiful stories of the treasure in the field and the pearl merchant point to the fact seeking the Kingdom of God and doing the will of the Father calls for total commitment.  One does not simply add this pearl to a collection or simply purchase one more parcel of land.  All must be sold.  An absolute fresh start is to be made.  The Gospel cuts into one's life and one must decide.  Jesus brings compassion and healing; but he also brings a call to responsibility that is not without its consequences.

Some basic questions we should be asking ourselves today in the light of the Gospel message:

How do we use the gift of life itself - do we reverence it in all its forms? Do we protect the fragility of life in those who are weakest, most helpless, most defenseless? Do we protect this gift in ourselves by taking good care of our own health and avoiding the things we know can be harmful?

How do we use the gift of time? Do we try to make each of our days productive? Do we try to avoid wasting time on useless things? Do we try not to postpone or put off until tomorrow or next week or next month things that could and should be done today?

How do we use the gift of faith? Do we bury it, neglect it, and do little or nothing to increase it? Do we make time for prayer in our lives, for worship, for reading Scripture, for classes and workshops... Do we take the nourishment we receive each week and go back into our daily lives as persons committed to the poor, the homeless...

Jesus' parable implies that if we keep this wonderful gift buried, or if we neglect our gifts, we then run the risk of losing them entirely and of being held to account for them. Certainly, our first step is to gather together to give thanks for God's gifts, and by so doing, to nourish our faith by Word and Sacrament. We should be very attentive and prayerful, and open to the movements of the Spirit as we come together for Eucharist.

And finally, the important question is how we are changed by what happens there, and how will the thoughts, words, actions and decisions of our daily lives give evidence of a faith that is alive, vigorous, and fruitful.

For the vast majority of Catholics, faith is a buried treasure. Most were baptized as infants, received First Penance, First Communion and Confirmation - with whatever religious training preparation for those sacraments involved - and then that "treasure" was buried. For most, there was no further formal study, and no faith development. The things they learned about God, about Jesus and the Church - the images, the language, the experiences - were frozen and stored away. For some, these primary concepts carried them through to adulthood quite successfully. They married in the church, went to Mass occasionally, made their "Easter duty", and raised their children as Catholics. They were basically content and secure. There was no need to change anything. Every so often, they would take the treasure from its hiding place, dust if off a little and then put it back in safe keeping.

Others, however, may not fare so well. Their understanding of the church and the Gospel may be so underdeveloped that they cannot cope with adult challenges. When their faith is questioned or tested, they may find themselves confused and weak - and often choose to follow a different road, or give up religion altogether. Their treasure remains buried.

The truth is this: We are accountable for this gift that God has given us. We must be willing to risk losing everything in order to gain its possession. But we must also make sure that the gift of our faith does not remain buried. We must invest it, make it grow, and nurture and nourish it so that it will continue to bear much fruit. God expects it to keep producing the fruits of holiness and goodness. He expects us to share it with others, to reach out to the alienated, the unchurched, and the disenchanted. He has commissioned each of us to bear witness to His Love by our service and good will towards one another.

These are difficult times for people the world over.  Many of us have been touched by death and suffering in ways we never could have imagined. We all share the horror - and can feel the pain - of continued atrocities carried out by terrorists; of the destruction of human life by poverty, hunger and disease; of an innocent abused by a trusted adult. We look for moments when the Light of Truth might shine through the current darkness, and it becomes more and more difficult to proclaim the goodness of God and to be witnesses to this great gift of faith.

But there are moments... many moments: some powerful and obvious, most so small that they may seem to go undetected.

It is time for all of us to dig up the treasure that we may have buried, so that we too can bring a lighted-candle into the common cloud of darkness that we all now seem to share. There has never been a time when we have needed to do this more.

Christians can sometimes speak too casually about "belonging to Christ" or of "following Jesus."  But the parables of Jesus warn us that kinship with him should not lightly be presumed.  A disciple of Jesus is one who has pondered his words and translated them into action.  Jesus' final question to his disciples is just as powerful today as it was then: 

"Have you understood all of this?"