Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

Someone once told me about a movie called “Everest.”  I haven’t seen it, but I’m told it’s about a mountain climbing expedition that went horribly wrong. The climbers were making their way to Everest's summit when a storm came up and stranded them on the mountain. The storm was so severe that rescuers couldn't get to them and some of the climbers died. One man, whom they thought was dead, survived. He had some of his toes and fingers amputated because of frost bite.

In an interview the climber was asked, "Will you climb again?" And without hesitation he said, "Absolutely!"  "But why?" he was asked, "You almost died on the mountain!" His reply, "You just have to be there. Climbing makes this minute of life so alive, so precious. It's not just about your time on the mountain. Once you have been on the mountain you become more aware of everything. Nothing is ever the same in your life. If you have been there, all of your life is affected by your experience. Climbing alters the way you see your family, job…everything."

Now, I have to admit, I have a little bit of a hard time relating to that.  I’m obviously not a mountain-climber, and so I don’t think I’d be risking my life to do it.  But this story does beg the question in us: what is so important you’d give your life for it?

Because that’s the question that’s forming the heart of today’s Scripture readings.  Solomon could have wished for anything he wanted.  After all, the Lord simply said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  How would you answer that question?  Well, Solomon didn’t wish for riches or political power, or fame or glory or anything at all like that.  He asks instead for wisdom, for “an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”  In itself, this is a response that is laden with wisdom, and God is so pleased that the grants Solomon “a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

In the parables in today’s Gospel, two people are going about their daily work, searching for treasure, and for fine pearls.  They have probably done this day in and day out and occasionally find something fairly good that brings them some income.  But on these particular days, they find a treasure, and a pearl, that is more wonderful than anything they have ever seen.  They quickly give up everything they have in life so that they can purchase it.  Can you imagine their joy?  Well, Jesus tells us, finding the Kingdom of heaven is kind of like that.

But not just like that, right?  Because we know that worldly goods can never hold a candle to the riches of the Kingdom of heaven.  The success in our careers is nice, the nice things we have in our homes give us some pleasure, our accomplishments – like climbing Mt. Everest – may even give us some pride.  But all of these will pale in the face of the joy of the Kingdom. 

And so we have the invitation today.  We have found the great treasure, the pearl of great price.  We have come here today to worship and to receive the Lord in the Eucharist.  We know where to find that which is ultimately valuable.  But the fact is that we can come and go from this holy place today and still not have what’s truly worthwhile.  Because in order to receive it, we have to give up everything.  We have to sell everything and buy the field or purchase that pearl of great price.

That might mean walking away from a business deal that is profitable but has consequences for the poor or the environment.  Or perhaps it means giving up a relationship that is destructive.  We may have to give up a leisure pursuit that separates us from family and friends.  We have to make choices, changes and decisions that amount to selling everything in order to make room for something that is more important in our lives – something that is ultimately important: that pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of heaven itself.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word leaves us with some very important questions.  What is the pearl of great price for us?  What is worth giving up everything?  How important is it for us to enter the Kingdom of heaven?  What is it that we must give up to get there?  Our prayer today is that we would be strengthened by the Word of God and nourished by the Eucharist so that we would have the courage to sell everything for the Kingdom of heaven, that pearl of ultimately great price.

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