Travelers & Merchants — 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

Readings: 1st Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-46

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.

What do these two analogies or parables of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) have in common? Both tell about men who find something precious and sell everything they have to possess it. These short stories are quite similar, but how do they differ? (There must be some significance to these differences otherwise Jesus would not have given us both images.)

Jesus does not give us many details, but in my imagining the first story goes like this: A traveler is walking a dusty road that he has walked many times before, but this time, as he is looking to one side at nothing in particular, a golden glint catches his eye from the adjacent field. Out of curiosity, he investigates and discovers a wooden crate full of gold coins which has been uncovered by recent plowing. Putting the coins back inside and fixing the lid, he reburies the treasure and joyfully goes to sell all that he has in order to buy that field. “Why doesn’t he simply carry the crate away?” Because that would be stealing and true happiness cannot be obtained through wickedness. One does not come to possess the treasure of the Kingdom of God through evil means.

Pearl MerchantIn the second story, a pearl merchant comes upon a high-priced specimen in a marketplace. Its price is, let’s say, one hundred thousand dollars. Many people have admired it before, but the merchant has an expert and discerning eye. He sees that this pearl is worth ten times more and he shrewdly sells everything he owns to possess it. To onlookers, he looks crazy (“Selling everything for just one pearl?”) but he knows what he is about. Those who forsake all else to possess the Kingdom of Heaven may likewise be thought foolish by some, but the wise one recognizes the pearl’s true value.

Both the traveler and the merchant find precious treasure, but one difference between them is that the merchant knew what he was looking for and actively sought it, while the country traveler did not. Some people seek out the true, the good, the beautiful, the eternal things. They seek God himself, and those who seek, find. Others do not seek the higher things of God, yet our humble Lord has been known to blindside them with the truth of his reality and love. So what do these parables mean for us here, who have already come to know Jesus Christ and his Church?

An important aspect to finding and possessing your treasure in the Kingdom of God is knowing and embracing your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Your vocation is your life’s calling from God. Your vocation is the means by which God intends for you to become holy and a blessing to all.

Some people find their vocation like the traveler on the road—stumbling upon it without having sought it. I think this is true for many marriages. A man and woman can be drawn to each other, fall in love and delight in each other, and decide to spend their lives together without discerning God’s purpose for their lives. Yet, since “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” (as St. Paul says in our second reading) the Lord still guides them according to his purposes. If you are in the sacrament of marriage your vocation is clear: your mission in life is to become the best spouse and parent you can be and to help lead them to heaven. You need not travel to a mountaintop monastery in a distant land to find your vocation and become a saint. Your vocation, your means to holiness, is as ordinary and close as a field or marketplace, yet your treasure is found there. Your vocation is sitting beside you.

Other vocations are usually discovered only with discernment, by searching like the merchant. One does not become a priest, a religious, or a dedicated single person without a firm decision to offer one’s life entirely to God. These people also find sanctity and bless others in the greatest way through their God-given callings. If you have not yet discovered your vocation, remain close to God in prayer and faithfulness, and he will reveal his will to you.

In our first reading, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon, the new, young king, feels overwhelmed by his office. “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon’s request for wisdom to benefit the kingdom pleased the Lord, so God granted him great wisdom and all the gifts he had not asked for as well. As Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Pray to God for the wisdom to know your vocation and to embrace it (like the traveler and the merchant) with the investment of everything you are. In this way, you will come to possess the Kingdom’s precious treasure.

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