Opening the Word: ‘Do you understand all these things?’

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In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells parables in groups of three. The parables, while building off one another, are subtly distinct. The last parable in the series tends to be the most dramatic, with themes related to God’s final judgment in history.

The kingdom of heaven is first compared to a treasure in a field. A person, upon finding this hidden treasure and then burying it again, sells all his belongings. He buys the field, inheriting this infinite treasure — while also gaining the land.

The kingdom of heaven is second compared to a pearl of great price. A merchant, this time, sells everything that he has for the sake of this pearl.

July 26 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12
Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128-129-130
Rom 8:28-30
Mt 13:44-52

Note the difference between the two finds. In the first, the man receives both treasure and the land. In the second, the merchant now possesses nothing but the pearl, an object of great beauty and wealth. He has given everything to possess this beautiful object. The second parable is, therefore, an intensification of the first. It shows how much is required to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

The third parable seems entirely unrelated to the previous two. The kingdom of heaven is now a net that gathers fish of all sorts. Fishermen haul these fish ashore, only then separating them into the good and the bad. The good are kept, the bad are thrown away.

Then, Jesus does something that he often does in the parables in Matthew. He leaves behind the literary world of the parable — of field, pearls and fish — to address God’s final judgment of humankind: “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 13:49-50).

Jesus then asks the disciples if they understand everything that has been said. Their yes must be understood as ironic. Have they really understood the worth of the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom established not through force but through the self-emptying love of the cross? Have they yet comprehended what it would cost to give everything up for the sake of this kingdom? Do they understand that if they do not, then they will be judged at the end of time?

Likely, they did not. Christ had not yet pilgrimed to Jerusalem, suffered and died upon the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father and given the Spirit to the disciples.

But we are the beneficiaries of a wisdom that the disciples did not yet possess.

Do we understand?

This is the question that Christ asks us in the Scriptures. Do we understand what it costs to inherit the kingdom of heaven?

The kingdom of heaven is not just nice Masses on Sunday mornings, followed by family brunches and a bit of rest.

The kingdom of heaven is God’s reign, the kingdom of peace and justice, of love and hope that transcends anything that the human being could establish. To inherit this kingdom means leaving behind our own will, our own desire to conquer, to control and to possess power.

It is to make Solomon’s prayer our own. We do not seek to vanquish the enemy, to possess infinite wealth, but we must long for the wisdom to know the truth, to do that which is true, and to love the truth.

Everything else must be left behind. Everything. Our grudges, our political preferences, our wealth, our ideological stances.

Everything that keeps us from enjoying the beauty of the kingdom.

Do you understand?

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

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