Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 27, 2014: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
Do you lose track of time when you work? On Thursday morning, I glanced at my calendar, and I noticed that it was clear in the afternoon. I wrote down for 3PM, "Visit to the Adoration Chapel." When 3PM came, I kept on working. When 3:15PM came, I kept on working. At 3:30PM, I got a prompting, "Paul, do you treasure your work more than I?" I hurriedly closed the office and headed to the Adoration Chapel. I profusely apologized to Jesus for taking Him for granted. I was reminded that if it was an important figure like a governor, I would have showed up at least 30 minutes I treated God Almighty with disrespect!

What do you treasure the most? Is it the kind of treasure which you store in a safe somewhere? How vulnerable is the treasure from being lost or stolen?
When Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a "treasure" discovered in the ground, or a "pearl of great price," He is calling us to consider the kingdom of heaven as the fulfillment of our dreams. In the parables, the one who finds the treasure sells all that he has to buy the land on which the treasure was found, and the merchant who finds the pearl sells all that he has in order to buy it. How far would we be willing to go to pursue the dream of the kingdom? Would we be willing to give our all for it?

Let’s see what St. James the Apostle did when he found a treasure. James and his brother John were fishermen by trade, but something happened to them that changed the course of their lives forever. The Gospel of Matthew narrates, “Jesus saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” What was so compelling to these two brothers that they would abandon their career and family to follow a man they hardly knew? Their decision mirrored the parables Jesus told today about a man finding treasure in a field and a man finding a pearl of great price. When they found the treasure, they sold everything they owned to possess that one treasure. What was the treasure that Jesus promised James and John?

Did Jesus promise them earthly wealth, fame, or honor? Perhaps mother of James and John thought so. She approached Jesus to ask him for a favor for her sons.  “What do you want,” was the question Jesus asked their mother.  The question was similar to the question that God asked King Solomon in today’s First Reading, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” The mother of James and John asked, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” In contrast, Solomon replied to God, “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act… Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Like Solomon, the one treasure James and John discovered was that they were chosen to serve God; they realized that God had given them the privilege to be servants of God. James and John gave up all earthly possessions to possess this one treasure God had given.

Pilgrims trekking on the Camino de Santiago
So what was this treasure worth to St. James? He walked an amazing 3,500 miles from Jerusalem to Spain to spread the Good News. Then after preaching, he walked back that same great distance to Jerusalem, only to face martyrdom by King Herod Agrippa in the year 44 AD. His disciples then carried him back to Spain by boat and buried him in the church now known as the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Many pilgrims walk portion of this path that St. James took--walking 100, 200, or even 500 miles--to reach the Cathedral. This coming Wednesday, our seminarian Ryan will give a presentation on his two-week pilgrimage to Spain that he went on in 2011. Along with many pilgrims, he walked 220 miles to reach the Cathedral.

A pilgrim on the Camino in pain
Many embark on this pilgrimage not knowing what they want out of the experience. Many face challenges along the way, such as blisters on their feet, tendonitis, and sore feet unable to go any further. Gradually though, as they gaze at the beautiful sunrise and sunset, develop new friendship with fellow pilgrims from various countries, and witness the kindness of strangers, they experience a spiritual epiphany that somehow God had arranged this incomparable experience just for them. Pilgrims then begin to let go of all the things they’ve been holding on to in the dungeon of their hearts. They begin to let go of anger and resentments that had prevented them from forgiving. They begin to stop being judgmental, envious, and selfish. Knowing that they are getting closer to the destination keeps them determined to persevere, but it’s what they learn on the journey that transforms them.

All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we should appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our
Cathedral of St. James (Santiago de Compostella)
growth toward our goal. In our daily lives we can spend a lot of time and resources acquiring possessions, seeking recognition, and yearning for comfort. Jesus reminds us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” King Solomon asked for the right treasure--the wisdom to know how to serve God here on earth. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.