17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2023

My Dear People, 

The idea of a hidden treasure not seen by everyone is appropriate for this chapter’s theme about the kingdom not being fully revealed to all. Like the treasure buried in a field, something of great value is present in the kingdom Jesus proclaims, but very few are aware of it. 

A new theme also emerges here: the urgency of responding to the good news of the kingdom. The person in the parable recognizes that he faces a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and makes a great sacrifice to obtain the hidden treasure. He sells all that he has and buys the field. 

The kingdom of heaven is a priceless treasure that completely alters one’s priorities in life. Things that at one time were considered very important now no longer carry as much weight in light of the wealth of God’s kingdom. One joyfully abandons everything in order to obtain these treasures. This image also recalls how the disciples left everything to follow Jesus (4:20,22), contrasting the many in Israel who remain indifferent to Jesus’ kingdom announcement –especially the Pharisees who are fighting against it. 

The pearl of great price parable offers a second illustration of urgency in responding to the kingdom. Though very small, pearls were considered more valuable than gold. As in the previous parable, the kingdom radically reorients one’s life. The one who discovers the kingdom joyfully gives up things he treasured in the past in order to obtain it, just like a merchant who finds a priceless pearl and wisely sells all that he has and buys it. The merchant reflects Jesus’ first disciples, who left everything to follow Jesus (4:20,22), and beckons us also to prioritize the kingdom above everything else. 

Imagine Jesus telling the parable of the dragnet in a house beside the Sea of Galilee and its bustling fishing industry. He speaks of a “seine-net,” or dragnet, which is pulled between two boats or thrown into the sea and then pulled to shore with ropes. Such a net gathers fish indiscriminately, both those considered edible and those not. Fishermen would sort the fish on the shore. Using these images from the daily life of local fishermen, Jesus might have used a powerful visual and nearby real-life illustration, like the parable of the weeds and the wheat, to explain the coexistence of good and evil in this world and to describe the final separation of the righteous from the wicked at the end of the age (see comments on 13;36-43). 

At the end of the discourse Jesus asks his disciples if they understand all these things, referring to the parables taught that day. Their affirmative response is significant. Understanding of the parables is precisely what Jesus said the crowds would lack (13:13-15). But, truly hearing the word and understanding it is the chief characteristic of the seed that falls on the good soil and bears fruit (13:23). Though the disciples still have much to learn, they do at least understand the kingdom’s mysteries; that sets them apart from the crowds (13:10-17) and will make them fruitful in their mission (13:23). 

Jesus says the disciples are like a scribe, a scholar of Scripture who was trained in interpreting the law.  According to the book of Sirach, a true scribe can “penetrate the subtleties of parables” and be “at home with the obscurities of parables” (Sir 39;2-3 RSV). Jesus’ disciples understand the parables. They are the new scribes of the kingdom because they have been instructed literally (“discipled”) in the kingdom of heaven. 

Jesus also says the disciples are like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old. As men who understand the mysteries of the kingdom, they see how Christ’s ministry (the new) fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures (the old), bringing God’s plan of salvation to its climax. Therefore, the disciples are much better interpreters of the scriptures—and thus better scribes—than the scribes allied with the Pharisees who have rejected Jesus (see  12:38). 

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente


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