Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time A
If you were painting a picture of the first of the three parables we just heard—of the treasure buried in the field—what would you paint? A field, of course. Probably a treasure chest. Someone holding a shovel. And that person’s face would have to include a great big smile.
I saw a most unusual painting a few days ago depicting this Gospel parable. The only person in the scene is clearly Jesus: white robe, sandals, golden halo, bearded and longhaired. (Who else could it be?) Jesus is out in a field—but not one used for growing crops. The carefully manicured grass and neat rows of tombstones tell us that this is a cemetery. In the background are a few trees and the steeple of a nearby church. Jesus is standing at the end of a grave, reaching down with both hands, and pulling a coffin right out of the ground. And beneath this very striking depiction are painted the words from the parable, “For joy He went and sold all that He had and bought that field.”
What is the artist trying to tell us? That we are the Lord’s treasure.
We’ve been hearing a lot of parables from Jesus lately. And we have a habit, when interpreting parables, to give ourselves the lead role, don’t we? And so we often consider this parable of the treasure buried in the field to be one about the need to be “all in” for Jesus, about the level of commitment to which the Gospel calls us, about the high price we ought to be willing to pay for our faith in the Lord—all true points. The scriptures tell us that this is a parable about the kingdom…but our usual thinking makes it a kingdom that we build, not God—a kingdom of human achievement, rather than the kingdom of heaven.
This painting turns the tables—and, I believe, puts things into the proper perspective. The kingdom is a matter of God’s grace, not human merit—a gift from the Lord, not something we can accomplish. In Jesus, we see the high price God is willing to pay for us—and not when we’re at our best, either, but when we’re dead: dead in the grave, dead in our sins. Jesus pays for us with his life, with his most precious Blood—far surpassing heaps of silver and gold. (The artist’s description of his work points out that our English words “casket” and “coffin” originally described boxes in which people kept their valuables, and that we use the word “vault” both for the place we entomb a body and the room where our money is kept at the bank.)
You are God’s treasure. For you, he was willing to pay the highest price.
Since God is clearly the main actor here, does that give us a purely passive role, as if we should just sit idly by while the Lord does all the work? Of course not. (The third parable we heard—of the separating of the fish in the dragnet—makes that abundantly clear!) But our commitment to God—to keep his commands—is to be founded on God’s commitment to us…and not the other way around. We are to base our priorities on his. Our love for Jesus only makes sense in the light of his all-surpassing love for us.
Take some time this week to ponder this incredible mystery—while you’re lingering over those first sips of coffee, while you’re driving to or from work, while you’re sitting on the porch or by the lake at the end of the day. Let it really sink in that you are precious to God, that you are Jesus’ treasure. When we take that mystery to heart, when we live each day out of that faith, it changes absolutely everything!
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.” And you are that treasure! For you, Jesus has willingly paid the highest price!