Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

July 28, 2002

Seventeenth Sunday Ordinary Time 2002

1 Kgs 3: 5, 7-12, Rom 8: 28-30, Mt 13: 44-52 Matthew 13:44-52

This week's Gospel is the third in a series of three Gospels covering chapter 13 of Matthew, the Parable Chapter in the Parable Gospel. This week's text covers the last three of the seven parables found in chapter 13 and ends with a brief conclusion. Like the first four parables in the chapter, the last three are all about the Kingdom of God. Matthew 13:44 The Parable of the Buried Treasure: Though only one verse long, this parable has all the ingredients that turn a story into a parable. A person finds a buried treasure in a field. They immediately bury the treasure in the same field, sell everything they own and buy the field. The story sounds strange to us. With a little background information on how people secured their non-perishable valuables in the first century Palestine, we find that the story sounds even more strange to the original readers of Matthew's Gospel.

In ancient times, there were few secure places where people could put their valued nonperishable objects like coins, gold, silver and jewels. The local bank, if there was one, was only as secure as the armed security people guarding it. A change in political status or a stronger contingent of armed robbers or kingsmen (it mattered little) made the banking business very unreliable. The option most people took was to bury their valuables in their back yards or somewhere on property they owned. By the time of Jesus, there was a whole body of law (like real estate law today) that covered just the issues of ownership buried treasures to sort out all possible ownership claims between finders and owners of property. This is why this parable of the found treasure would be disturbing to Matthew's original readers.

If a person finds a buried treasure on a piece of property he did not own, he is legally obligated to report the find to the proper authorities and let the courts figure out who has legal ownership. The person in the parable does not do this. Instead, he reburies the treasure, goes to sell everything he owns and buys the field. A risky thing to do on two accounts: 1) Once it is discovered that there was a buried treasure in the field, the finder would be subject to legal action and could be charged with fraud by the former owners. 2) Having sold everything he owns to buy the field, he would have no back-up, no financial cushion, should something go wrong. By first century standards, the finder in the parable acted very foolishly and recklessly in his efforts to possess the treasure.

One more point about this parable, the text says the finder does these foolish and reckless things for the joy he found in finding the treasure. Matthew 13:45-46 The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price: The parable of the pearl of great price is paired with the parable of the buried treasure because they make similar points, but they are not the same. Only two verses long, it tells a story of a merchant whose business is searching for pearls. This merchant finds one pearl of great price and goes and sells everything he has, including his pearl-finding business, to buy the pearl of great price. Here lies the surprise. In order to obtain the pearl of great price, the pearl merchant must sell everything he owns, and get out of the pearl-searching business. The Parable's Lessons: The two parables make similar points about discipleship in the kingdom of God from two different starting points. We need to remember that Jesus is directing these parables to his disciples, not the crowds. The parable of the buried treasure is about a person, though not seeking the kingdom, stumbles upon it. But once found, they experience a joy so profound and overwhelming that they radically alter their lives, choosing to do what seems to be very foolish and reckless in their desire to follow the call and keep their new found joy. The parable of the pearl of great price is about people who are actively seeking the meaning of life. Their whole purpose of life is to discover the true meaning of life and what they should be doing to obtain it. They will become students of many disciplines and spiritual paths. But when they do discover the Gospel, their searching ends. They have found what they were looking for all along. They stop their searching and start living the ways of the Gospel.

The one parable is about an unintended finder, the other is about intentional seekers. Both describe how people who discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and a citizen of God's kingdom are willing to give up everything they have, even to the point of looking foolish and reckless, to follow the way of Jesus and join the kingdom of God.

EXAMPLES OF FINDERS AND SEARCHERS AT THE DES MOINES CATHOLIC WORKER (DMCW):

There is no secret that I am a big fan of the DMCW community. The last four years of communal life at the DMCW have been the best of my 27-year career in the CW movement. I consider myself a lucky person for being part of this community, receiving more from them than I give - no doubt about it.

Three current members of the DMCW community come to mind when I think of the parables of the buried treasure and the pearl of great price. Carla Dawson's journey to the DMCW reminds me of the parable of the buried treasure. Carla came to the DMCW as a guest with her infant son Julius in 1988. She wasn't looking for any meaning and purpose in life. She just needed a roof over her head and a safe place to live until she could get set up on her own. That's when she met Wendy Bobbit and Kay Meyer, two single mothers raising their children in the DMCW community. She became best friends with Wendy and Kay and fell in love with the Catholic Worker movement, especially the work of hospitality. When she was able, Carla moved out of the DMCW into her own place. But she could not stay away from the DMCW. She became a regular volunteer and eventually moved back into the DMCW to become a full time community member in 1989. Since then both Wendy and Kay have moved on, yet Carla has stayed, becoming one of the most valued and beloved members of the community. She holds down a full time job, is going to college part time, keeps the check book and pays the community bills, all the while raising Julius and her two younger sons, Josh and Jordan, both born in the community. She is a Super Mom, and she is basically the rock upon which the community rests. She is the person in the community we go to address the hard issues surrounding hospitality and community life because she really loves the DMCW and everyone associated with it: community members, guests, and volunteers. Through the years people have told Carla that she's been foolish and reckless to keep living at the DMCW, especially when it came to raising her boys in a hospitality house. Their criticisms did not deter her from the joy and meaning she found at the DMCW. This spring marked a milestone in Carla's life when her son Julius graduated from East High School in Des Moines. When Carla came to the DMCW as a guest, she found a treasure she was not looking for. It gave her great joy and once she found it, she's gone to great lengths to keep it, even to the point of looking foolish and reckless.

Mike and Fran Fuller are the DMCW community members who remind me of the parable of the pearl of great price. I met Mike and Fran when they were in a searching state in their lives. They have been married 28 years and have raised three daughters. Some years ago, they found themselves dissatisfied with their lives and their marriage. They figured out that God was missing from their lives, and they started a spiritual journey to find God and save their marriage. Fran was raised Catholic but had long since left the Church. Mike was not raised in any one tradition. They started attending a large nondenominational church in Des Moines called First Federated Church. This worked for them for a while. Then there was a group that broke off from First Federated, a smaller, more evangelical and social justice crowd who called themselves Christ Community Church. These folks had a clearer social justice message, met in house churches, and did hands-on direct ministry with the poor.

That is how Mike and Fran were introduced to the DMCW community. They were part of a group from their church who cooked a meal for the DMCW once a month. Mike and Fran liked what they saw at the DMCW and started to volunteer at the house on a weekly basis. When space became available, they offered to join the community full time. With their children all raised and out of the house, Fran quit her $70,000 a year job at an insurance company in Des Moines, they sold their two-year-old house in Beaverdale, Iowa - a suburb of Des Moines. Mike kept his day job as a convenience store assistant manager and moved into the community in January 2000. They moved into the Ligutti House, a house that needed many repairs and lots of fixing up. And they have been a vital part of our community ever since, a Godsend in so many ways. Mike is the friendly and gentle giant in the community known for his chess playing efforts. When he's not working at the store, you're most likely to find him playing a chess game with one of the guests at Dingman House. Fran is a full time Catholic Worker. She takes a full load of house shifts for hospitality, organizes the different groups who cook our evening meals, is the editor of the via pacis and is beginning her walk as a nonviolent resistor to the war makers, been arrested a number of times and has spent one night in jail. She is also doing a great job as my main support person, putting out my email messages, keeping my checkbook, paying my bills and helping with correspondence and visiting list. It's like having my own executive secretary! She is the best!

Fran and Mike are like the pearl-searching merchant who, once the pearl of great price is found, sold everything they owned, including the pearl searching business, to buy the one pearl they were looking for. Matthew 13:47-50 The Parable of the Net Filled with Fish: Did you hear the one about the Southern Baptist minister who died and went to heaven's gate and when he met St. Peter, he said, I can't believe I'm finally here, please answer this question, I've been dying to know all my life, are there any Roman Catholics in heaven? St. Peter looked into his great book and said, No, there ainít no Roman Catholics here in heaven. The Southern Baptist minister gave a deep sigh of relief and asked, Are there any Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans or Presbyterians? St. Peter looked into his big book and said, No, none of these folks either. Now the Southern Baptist minister was really overjoyed and he asked just one more question. Are there any Pentecostals or Assembly of God folks here? St. Peter looked in his book and shook his head and said, Nope - none of them either. Now the Southern Baptist minister was beside himself with glee and said, Well then, just take me to my Southern Baptist friends. And St. Peter looked in his book and said, There ainít none of them up here either. The Southern Baptist minister was shocked and asked St. Peter, Then who is in heaven? Just the children of God, St. Peter said, and the friends of Jesus, Abraham, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius and the Great Spirit.

The Parable of the Net Filled with Fish is very close to the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. Itís a parable about the kingdom of God, about how good and evil exist side by side in the kingdom, in the "here and now" and come judgment day, at the end of time, good and evil will be separated and given their just rewards. What the parable of the Net Filled with Fish tells us about God's kingdom is what the parable of the Wheat and Weeds doesn't, it is that come Judgment Day at the end of time, there will be people from every race, tribe, gender, class, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation in the kingdom of God. Come the final judgment, none of the aforementioned criteria will determine whether you are with God or not. What will matter will be if you were a good, loving, forgiving, God-fearing, justice-seeking personSÿSURPRISE! Matthew 13:51-52 Jesus' Conclusion: The last two verses of this week's gospel is the concluding statement of Jesus' seven-parable discourse in chapter 13. He asks his disciples if they understand what they heard. They say yes. Then Jesus tells them, "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"∑ Unlike the scribes in the synagogues and the temple who rejected Jesus and his message, the scribes and leaders in the service of God's kingdom and the Jesus movement will be able to recall and put into practice the best of the traditions of their faith, and at the same time, call forth new ways and new interpretations of God's Word and Jesus' Way to meet any new challenges, our ever-changing human situation brings forth in the future. In other words, Jesus is telling us that the best leadership for the Church will be leaders who can be both conservative and liberal, traditionalists and reformers. The best leaders are those who can strike the needed balance between competing polls and move the Church into the direction it needs to go for any given moment in history. The fact is, after 2000 years of Church history, there seems to be little new or unique that the Church hasn't already done or experienced. We've done it all; we've been the saints and the sinners, the good guys and the bad guys. We've embraced the poor and the rich, the powerful and the powerless. We have fought against the "status quo"; we have been the "status quo". We have been pro-war and anti-war, nonviolent and violent. We've been the executioners; we've been the executed. We've been the keepers of the law and we've been the outlaws. We have identified heresies in every theological direction, and we have embraced theologies of every shape and form. We claim a unity and oneness, yet we are the most diverse and pluralistic faith community in the human family. The list is endless of what we as church have done and not done in the name of God.

The challenge for Church leadership in any given moment in history is to know what to hold on to from the past, what to lift up for people to consider and what new things to embrace that best meet the needs of the Church in the here and now as we try to be the proclaimers of God's kingdom and followers in the ways of Jesus as best we can. And even though there seems to be nothing new under the stars that we as Church have not already tried, the Church and especially our Church leadership, must remain open to surprises, for it is only in surprises that the Holy Spirit continues to reveal the Divine and our way to heaven.