We learn from the parables of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven is a mysterious, hidden reality of incomparable worth which is distinct from the temporal world.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
30 July 2017
In today’s gospel (Mt 13:44 ff.), Jesus gives us three parabolic images of the kingdom of heaven. The first speaks of a treasure buried in a field:
Jesus said to his disciples: “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.
The second utilizes the image of a merchant diligently searching for fine pearls:
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.
We learn from these parables, spoken from the divine and human lips of the incarnate Son of God, that the kingdom of heaven is a mysterious, hidden reality of incomparable worth which is distinct from the temporal world (cf. Jn 18:36). We learn also that it is discoverable, knowable, real. The person who finds this treasure, the pearl of great price, is filled with joy and immediately sets about ordering his life so as to acquire it. We also learn that “detachment from riches is necessary for entering the kingdom of heaven” (CCC 2556). “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” teaches Jesus on the Mount (Mt 5:3). The man who finds this treasure quickly sells all his possessions in order to purchase the field in which it lies and thus possess it as his own.
Therefore, the discovery of this treasure imparts a radical change in the person which is manifested by decisive, concrete action. The man who discovers this treasure quickly sets about ordering his life and activities toward the same end. There’s no hint of indecisiveness, hesitation, wasteful deliberation or careless indifference. The treasure is something he desires above all else. Ultimately, in the end, it is not only all he wants, it is all he has.
The Kingdom of Heaven
It’s safe to say that every Catholic or other Christian has heard about the kingdom of heaven. They know that this kingdom is in fact the kingdom of Christ. However, it’s often the case that, while they “know of” this everlasting and singularly unique reality, it has not yet become something tangible, real, definitively experienced. Rather, it’s something in the distance, vague and entirely abstract, situated on an obscure and far away horizon. Intellectually people often believe in the concept of heaven, but that knowledge has not yet penetrated the heart, becoming a governing aspect of their life; they are not yet fired in the spirit with joy over its discovery; their soul does not yet vibrate with the overflowing, infinite love which flows powerfully throughout its landscape of perfect truth, goodness and beauty.
Perhaps this situation is due in part to the incorrect notion that the kingdom of heaven is something accessed only after the point of death. While it’s true that the consummation of our life in its fullness in the kingdom of heaven will not be complete until we have passed from this earthly life, having experienced the resurrection from the dead upon Christ’s second coming, we can, however, live in the kingdom right now, experiencing it in a knowable, tangible way.
“For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). The doorway to the kingdom is opened to us by the infusion of the Holy Spirit, sent from Christ to form us into members of his own body. If one has faith in Christ and in virtue of baptism, one is a member of the kingdom of Christ, provided that he has not excluded himself from this divine treasury through the commission of mortal sin, which extinguishes the life of God in the soul and snuffs out sanctifying grace.
Nevertheless, it is often the case that Catholics and other Christians who are in a state of grace, fail to experience the peace, joy and tranquility which is characteristic of life with and in Christ, a life in communion with him and thus a life lived in his kingdom.
Why is this the case? It is frequently due to the lack of an intimate relationship of communion with Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God. This sublime relationship, which, if properly nourished and cherished, should draw us steadily into the unfathomable depths of divine love, remains incomplete and unfulfilled though one’s own fault as a consequence of a person’s disinterest, disregard, or indifference toward Christ. It remains stagnant and immature because a person has raised some obstacle in their life which prevents an escalating degree of union with God. There are many possibilities that may be responsible for this unfortunate situation.
Perhaps it is due to a failure to try to get to know Jesus by studying the scriptures, especially the gospels which contain his very words. It’s no secret that many Catholics and other Christians “punch the Sunday time-clock,” and then relapse into secularism but moments later, displaying near-total disinterest in learning who Christ really is. St. Ambrose said, when we read the scriptures, God speaks to us; when we pray, we speak to God. And St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Perhaps it is due to something else, such as a lax moral or prayer life. Perhaps a person has not placed an emphasis on bringing his life under the sovereign rule of Christ, which is a prerequisite for life in the kingdom of heaven.
There are a number of highly dangerous and destructive cultural “norms,” amoral philosophies, social ills, and so-called rights, which, if deliberately affirmed with knowledge of their incompatibility with Christ and his truth, are capable of excluding people from the kingdom of heaven. These include such things as same-sex “marriage”; homosexual activism; artificial birth control; cohabitation and other forms of fornication; divorce and remarriage and adultery; abortion; false gender ideologies and transgenderism; assisted suicide and euthanasia; hedonism with its lust for pleasure, power and wealth; and a refusal to give aid to those in need, to name only a few.
If the pearl of great price is truly desired, one must be willing to purchase it with a gift of self to Christ. Self-entrustment to God and total allegiance to his Son and his divinely revealed truth, transmitted in its full purity by the Catholic Church, is necessary to step into the kingdom of heaven. This means living in a radically new and different, other-worldly way. It’s a new life made possible only by repentance of sin and the reception of God’s grace. Hence the importance of receiving the sacraments, especially Penance and Eucharist.
If we deliberately refuse to bring our lives under the command and rule of Christ, giving free and loving obedience to him, then we may find ourselves counted among the wicked, as narrated in Christ’s third parabolic presentation of the kingdom of heaven. Here Jesus speaks of the Last Judgment at the close of the age:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. (Mt 13:44 ff.)
The saints and other holy people of past recognized that the key to the kingdom is found in fostering an intimate relationship of communion with Christ. The Son of God is “the way and the truth and the life” through whom all must pass in order to access eternal communion with God the Father (Jn 14:6). Christ is the centerpiece, the hinge, upon which everything depends on our relationship with the Tripersonal God. These saints and others, whether canonized or otherwise recognized for their holiness of life, manifested by their words and deeds the virtue of charity—a supernatural love of God and neighbor. Their lives reflected their intimate relationship of communion with Christ and displayed an existence situated in the heart of his everlasting kingdom.
One example that comes to mind is Blessed Paul VI. At his funeral, August 12, 1978, Paul was enclosed in a simple pine coffin, the book of gospels positioned on top, its pages blowing in the wind before thousands of both spectators and participants. This last earthly glimpse of the man signified the story of his life and manifested the manner in which he had purchased the pearl of great price as a loving servant of God. He was a humble, kind man, with a quiet but keen sense of humor, and excellent powers of memory. He displayed an obvious love for and dedication to the truth. He aligned his life with Christ, who is himself the source of all truth, justice, and love.
Another man who comes to mind is St. Maximilian Kolbe. His story is well known. He was born in Poland in 1894. A brilliant man, ordained a priest who obtained doctorates in philosophy and theology, he soon set off to the East and engaged in difficult and sacrificial missionary work for Christ and his Church. He was in Nagasaki, Japan, prior to the atomic bomb drop by the U. S. in August of 1945, where he constructed a monastery on the far side of a mountain, against everyone’s advice. Due to its location, it was protected from the full force of the shockwave, which enabled those housed within it to survive.
After his work in Japan, he traveled back to Poland. During the German occupation, Maximilian Kolbe and his fellow monks labored to care for refugees, harboring about 2000 Jews. Additionally, their monastery became a kind of publishing house which distributed anti-Nazi material in opposition to the bloody brutality and tyranny of Hitler’s regime. Consequently, Kolbe found himself on the wrong side of the Nazi’s and was soon arrested.
Imprisoned at Auschwitz, Maximilian and his fellow companions suffered evil, inhuman atrocities of the worst type. One day, three prisoners went missing. As punishment and to discourage any further attempts at escape, the Germans decided to randomly execute ten prisoners by extended dehydration and starvation. This terrifying death-sentence would be inflicted upon them by forcing them into a standing-room-only prison cell.
One of the men chosen for execution, Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Polish army sergeant, began to weep and cried out: “I have a wife and children.” With that, although his exact words are lost to us, Maximilian resolutely and calmly stepped forward and said, “I will die for that man.”
The commander was more than interested in such a bizarre, human anomaly. Why was one man so quickly and easily volunteering to die for another? He asked Maximilian to identify himself. With that, the saint responded, “I am a Catholic priest.” One does not have to be ordained as clergy to purchase the field and its treasure; however, Kolbe clearly had done so.
The ten men were packed into their restrictive cell, unable to sit down. One by one they dropped, often slumping one against the other. Each time the guards peered in, they found Kolbe either standing or kneeling, calmly looking about at his companions, leading them in hymns of praise and adoration to God. He also frequently encouraged them to pray for Mary’s intercession, the spiritual mother of the faithful and mother of Christ, to whom he had always given special devotion.
After three weeks, all the men had died save one: St. Kolbe. His sustenance was not food and water, but the incarnate Word of God. As it seemed he was immune to execution by their previous design, the Nazi’s decided to kill him by a lethal injection of carbolic acid. On August 14, 1941, St. Maximilian Kolbe calmly raised his arm to accept the deadly needle, whereby he realized the treasure to its fullest. The pearl of great price was won.
“I want to die for that man.”
I do not think St. Kolbe primarily had Franciszek Gajowniczek in mind when he uttered those unforgotten words. It is perhaps more accurate to say he was thinking of Someone else: his Savior, Jesus Christ, of whom his Mother had said, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).
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Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.