Buying Without Money
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. 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.
you understand all these things?" They answered, "Yes." And he
replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is
like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the
"Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life" (Ps 49:7). This line of the psalmist expresses a fundamental truth: We cannot merit our own salvation. No amount of good works or prayers can bridge the gap between God and man or atone for even the smallest sin. God freely bestows the grace and truth of His kingdom upon us. Salvation “is not your own doing,” the apostle makes clear. “It is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). Similarly, Isaiah invites the Israelites to the Lord’s banquet of grace saying, “You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost.” (Is 55:1).
At the same time, we also know that the “cost of discipleship” is steep. The kingdom of God within us, the life of grace, is kept at a price. Nor does this contradict the gratuitousness of God’s grace. It is in the logic of a gift that, although freely given, we must nevertheless do something to receive it. Isaiah’s curious command to “buy without money” indicates both dimensions — the freedom and the cost. Many presents come in boxes; they must be opened. Likewise, we must open our hands to receive handouts. The very reception of the gift demands something of us. It costs.
This paradox is at work in the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price (cf. Mt 13:44-46). The men in the parables encounter pure gifts, but they must sell everything they own in order to obtain them. They detach themselves from whatever could keep them from receiving the gift. Thus, their selling of everything signifies the detachment necessary for the kingdom of God. We cannot take hold of what God bestows if our hands are full. To receive what is given, we must empty our hands.
With regard to the first parable, the man does not seem to be looking for the treasure at all. He seems just to happen upon it. He finds it through no virtue or work of his own. So also we have come upon the kingdom of God undeservedly — or, rather, it has come upon us. Many people have stumbled upon the faith unwittingly, encountering Our Lord when and where they least expected or sought Him. The kingdom of God is freely given, not of our own making or manufacturing.
Nevertheless, we have to make it our own — to interiorize His grace and truth, to shape our lives around what we have received. That comes at a great cost. To attain that, we need to rid ourselves of everything else — in effect, to go and sell all we have, emptying our hands and hearts of anything that may come in the way of the Gospel.
The merchant teaches us something else about receiving gifts. He was searching for fine pearls already. He had already disposed himself to identify and appreciate valuable things. He had prepared himself for the pearl of great price. Thus, again, a certain effort is required for a gift. We open ourselves to God’s gifts by searching for them already. We widen our hearts to receive God’s gifts by earnestly desiring to obtain what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy (cf. Phil 4:8). Hearts thus widened are more capable of receiving what God gives. Hearts searching for base, impure, dishonorable things will have a difficult time receiving God’s gifts.
In neither parable does the man haggle or negotiate to gain what he has found. Each one gives all to receive all. We, however, bargain with God constantly. We try to have it both ways — to have both His gifts and the things of the world. We try to get His treasure and pearl at a lower cost. We always seek to cut corners, hoping to keep in hand some aspects of the world while we ask for the kingdom of heaven. It will not work. “Heavenly riches are not obtained without the loss of the world,” (St. Hilary).
This, then, is how we should approach the divine teaching and grace God has given us — the creed and the sacraments. Freely given to us, they must be received and kept at a great cost. As the men did in the parables, so may we detach ourselves from all worldly goods, lest they keep us from having as our own these divine gifts.
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