Images of the Kingdom of God by Rev. Paul de Ladurantaye
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.
Do 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 old."
During the course of His earthly life and mission, Our Lord spoke often of the kingdom of God. This week's Gospel shows us Jesus using different images to describe what this kingdom is like - the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value, the dragnet thrown into the sea which brings in all kinds of fish. These images tell us something about the nature of God's kingdom and how we should respond to it.
The comparison of the kingdom with a treasure or valuable pearl is inspired by the Old Testament Wisdom literature, where divine Wisdom is said to be the most precious treasure or pearl. The basic message of the two comparisons is that God's kingdom is so valuable that everything else must be sacrificed for it. The kingdom is not a place or a physical location; rather, the kingdom is a matter of a direct or close relationship of ourselves with God. The question that is implied by these two parables is simply whether anything in our lives can have greater value or priority than our union with God. To accept His kingdom may mean that we have to give up certain ambitions or aims, to abandon certain bad habits or ways of life that may be deeply ingrained, to take on a discipline and self-denial that are not always easy. But there is no other way to peace of mind and heart in this life and to glory in the life to come. It is indeed worth any sacrifice to possess God's kingdom and to live in friendship and communion with Him.
Jesus speaks also of the kingdom as a great net that catches various kinds of fish, some worth keeping and some not. Here again, the point of the parable calls us to the recognition that, some day, there will come a judgment, a separation. The "fish" worth keeping are those who have realized and accepted the supreme importance of the kingdom of God in their lives, and who have tried, with all their strength, to conduct themselves according to God's way of life. In this world, the kingdom of God embraces both saints and sinners, and the Lord gives to every person the time and opportunities to become more and more transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. However, this time will not go on forever. Our lives on earth will come to an end; therefore, Jesus reminds us, we must be prepared to put His kingdom first on our list of priorities. If we do this, then not only will we increase in our personal sanctity, but also we will be counted among the "fish" that are worth saving.
When Jesus had finished speaking to His disciples about the kingdom, He asked them if they had understood. After they answered, "Yes," Our Lord went on to speak about a scribe who is learned in the reign of God, one "who can bring from his store both the old and the new." What Jesus was saying in effect is this: "You are able to understand because you come with a heritage - the heritage of the Old Testament. But after you have heard me, you have a knowledge of things you never knew before. Now, you must put what you have known previously and what you know now into good use."
There is something very suggestive here. Each of us comes to Christ with some gift and some ability. Jesus does not ask that we give up this gift, but rather that we use it in His service. A businessman need not give up his business; rather, he should run it as a Christian would. One who can sing, or dance, or act, or paint need not give up his or her art, but must use that art in a Christian way, to promote Christian virtues. Jesus did not come to empty life but to fill and enrich it. Every aspect of our human life is made more vibrant by God's grace and more beautiful when it is related to His kingdom. That is why Jesus reminds us to seek His kingdom first of all, and why the possession of the kingdom should be the surpassing goal and aim of our lives.
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