“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’” (Matthew 13:44)
July 27, 2014
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“Police in Orem, Utah, say a man who thought he was getting a call from a burglar had actually gotten a call from his dog. Authorities in the community south of Salt Lake City say the man alerted police after he received a phone call from his home phone on his cell phone. Officials say the man heard banging and scratching noises on the line and figured it was an intruder. Police went to the man's home but didn't find anything missing or broken. The man later called officers and told them he figured out the mystery. He said his dog had grabbed the home phone's receiver and apparently hit the redial button while burying it in the backyard.” (Associated Press, October 5, 2012)
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What an odd story! Made even more so when the dog, thinking the phone receiver a treasure, buried it in the backyard! But I wonder—was it actually the receiver the dog took for treasure, or was it, rather, what the receiver delivered, the voice of the beloved master? Indeed, did that dog mistake trinket for treasure?
Indeed, it’s something we silly mortals do all the time—mistake trinkets for treasure. We can easily laugh at the dog’s behavior precisely because it mirrors our own. Why, even when our drawers, closets, basements and garages are stuffed, we scurry from one rummage sale to the next in the accumulation of even more. And, tragically, it’s not just material items that can clutter our lives and threaten to choke the life out of us; unwisely chosen values and attitudes can also do us in.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’” (Matthew 13:44)
What matters most, Jesus insists, is already right in front of us, close as the backyard field, close as the front lawn, near as the garden beneath the kitchen window. But heaven-come-to-earth is also hidden though it be so near; and, as Jesus further insists, what we can know of heaven while yet on earth is but a proximity, a mere hint. For sure, what awaits us in eternity is beyond the ability of language to describe.
And so it is that we search energetically—and vainly—for what’s already near, already ours. We look in all the wrong places for what’s in plain view for those with eyes to see. Thus wrote American poet Stephen Crane:
“A man saw a ball of gold in the sky; // He climbed for it, // And eventually he achieved it—It was clay.
“Now this is the strange part: //When the man went to the earth // And looked again, // Lo, there was the ball of gold. // Now this is the strange part: // It was a ball of gold. // Aye, by the heavens, it was a ball of gold.”
So, what is this ball of gold already in our possession? Or, more correctly, what is this thing that already possesses us? It is this truth: we are held now and into eternity in the loving hand of God. Heaven-come-to-earth is to live fully, hopefully and happily in the certainty that we are God’s truest treasure—that we are, each of us, God’s ball of gold.
Silly & sinful mortals that we are, though, we can (and sometimes do) reject this truth, imagining ourselves unworthy, not only God’s love, but even of human love. And then we begin our desperate search for something to fill that great emptiness, that place God has reserved for himself. Rejecting the real treasure, we attempt to fill our lives with what amounts to worthless trinkets.
As I survey the walls of my study and bedroom, the accumulation of hand-painted religious icons I’ve collected over many years reminds me that even these are but trinkets. While they may call me to contemplation on the intimate relationship I deeply desire to have with God, these religious art pieces are no substitute for what it is my heart seeks. Indeed, they are reminders but surely not the reality.
Just so with the rosary beads in my pocket. Even after the assigned prayers for each bead are recited devoutly, the rosary itself remains but a vehicle for what I most deeply desire—a relationship with God.
Yes, even religious icons and rosary beads remain but trinkets compared with the treasure to which they point. And the treasure is this: to give oneself into God’s possession now and into eternity. Heaven-come-to-earth is to live fully, hopefully and happily in the certainty that each of us is God’s truest treasure—that we are, each of us, God’s ball of gold.
I know it’s in me to be as silly as that goofy dog in the opening story who buried the phone receiver in the backyard. The phone itself wasn’t the treasure, the dog’s beloved master was. The phone was just the instrument that facilitated the connection. It’s easy for me to forget that the real treasure is already mine. The religious icons that hang on my walls, the rosary beads in my pocket: they are but trinkets that remind me of the treasure.