In our gospel today, our Lord Jesus Christ presents us with three fascinating and mysterious parables describing the kingdom of heaven.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
26 July 2020
In the first two, the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, we learn that the kingdom of Christ is of inestimable value. Its value is so great that, when a person finds it, he sells all that he has to purchase the kingdom. It’s not a cheap kingdom won by half-way measures. We are required to surrender earthly attachments to obtain it. There’s a real cost involved.
When we think of earthy attachments, we think of worldly things like wealth, power, pleasure, and fame. We certainly must surrender a desire for those things. In other words, they must not be the focus of our life. But there are other attachments we must distance ourselves from as well. These include things like vice and sin and disordered ambitions and a tendency to be more OF the world than simply living ON the world. If we’re the kind of person who is more formed by culture than the word of God, we’re not going to find the buried treasure. St. Paul warns us:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect”Rom 12:2
Here’s the main point of these two parables: Although Christ invites everyone into his kingdom, he asks us to make a radical choice. The Catechism teaches we must “give up everything” to gain the kingdom (CCC, 546). In other words, we must give up whatever is opposed to Christ’s kingdom, whether it be worldly riches or dissent from the moral teaching of the Church or selfishness or some other type of sin. “Words are not enough,” says the Catechism, “deeds are required” (CCC, 546). Merely saying, “I believe” without acting on that belief leaves the pearl of great price unrealized.
Christ is the Treasure
Ultimately we need to understand that both the treasure and the pearl are Christ. In other words, the kingdom of God is Christ. He is of inestimable worth, which is why St. Paul says, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish” (Phil 3:7-8).
The Parable of The Dragnet
The third parable our Lord presents to us is the parable of the dragnet in which the kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea and pulled through its waters. In this parable, the net represents the Church. The holy Catholic Church founded by Christ is the kingdom of heaven in its seed and beginning. By remaining in the Church as within a net, as children of light, we are drawn through the uncertain waters of the world to the safety of everlasting life in Christ.
However, the net is drawn through the polluted waters of the world, where there are many enemies of the kingdom in word and deed. There are sharks, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and dangerous cultural chemicals that can rot a man to his core. There are people who oppose the faith of the Church in full or in part. There are men who smile and claim to be enlightened while they battle against the Church’s moral teaching, labeling it as “antiquated, bigoted opinion.”
The devil is at work in the world’s currents, trying to divert people from the net or encouraging them to breathe in the pollution of mortal sin that they may, by their own free choices, be cast into the fiery furnace on the last day. Satan labors to see children of light intentionally choose the way of darkness. His skill at bringing about this nefarious end must not be underestimated.
As the net is pulled through the waters of the world, various species of fish are caught up in it. In this way, our Lord reminds us that not everyone who appears to be inside the Church is a child of light. There are also children of darkness in the net. Within the Church there are both friends and enemies of God. So long as the net is being pulled through the water, children of light and darkness can change places. The children of light may give up the kingdom for darkness, and the children of darkness may step into the light. Regardless of who is in the net, the requirement is the same: each is asked to make the radical decision to give up everything for Christ.
On the day of judgment, whether it is at our death or on our Lord’s return, the net is pulled from the waters of the world, and the “angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous,” says our Lord, “and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The wonderful thing about being pulled along in the net of the Church is that Christ gives us his words of truth and the grace of the sacraments to survive the journey. The Eucharist, for example, is our spiritual food, and in receiving it, we breathe the air of Christ. We take his divine life and strength into our lungs. Although we suffer along the way because the net is buffeted by the waters of the world and pulled through its polluted currents—everything works for our good, provided we remain in fidelity to Christ.
As St. Paul told us today:
All things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”Rom 8:28
St. Peter Balsam’s Story
“All things work for the good of those who love God.” St. Peter Balsam’s story reminds us of that fact. Peter was apprehended by the Romans in Palestine during the time of persecution, in the early 300’s, for refusing to end his friendship with the Lord Jesus by worshiping false pagan gods.
Roman culture in his time bore many similarities to our own. Christians were despised and treated viciously and unfairly, as they are today. If they said or did the wrong thing, drawing attention to themselves and their beliefs, they often lost their lives. However, if they went along with Roman culture and its false beliefs, and worshipped Christ on the side, the Romans generally left them alone. In other words, like today, if Christians lived as part-time Christians they could survive. If we privatize our faith and appear to go along with our debased culture, we can escape notice. Perhaps even gain worldly recognition. But let the pearl you’ve discovered in Christ shine through, and that will quickly change.
In the time of St. Balsam, dying for Christ was the supreme sign of friendship with God. It meant one was a true disciple. It was a cherished badge of honor. The Roman governor tried to convince Peter that he was simply being unreasonable. Why give up your life over such a trivial thing as following a man who died on a cross hundreds of years ago? When Peter remained resolute in his faith, he was hung on a rack and torn with hooks.
Periodically, in his suffering, the governor invited him once again to renounce Jesus. It’s the reasonable thing to do, he said softly with a smile. However, not even the depth of Peter’s pain could change his resolve. The horrendous tortures went on for so long, the crowd began to beg Peter to worship the pagan gods so as to bring it to an end.
Peter, however, refused. He knew where his true treasure was. At one point, he told the governor:
You will also know one day that there is a law of the eternal king, proclaiming that everyone shall perish, who offers sacrifice to devils: which do you counsel me to obey, and which, do you think, should be my option; to die by your sword, or to be condemned to everlasting misery, by the sentence of the great king, the true God?”Quoted from epriest.com
After surviving two separate shifts of torturers, Peter finally died by crucifixion. The Romans said, “See, look how this man came to a sad and meaningless end.” But we know differently. He purchased the pearl of great price through a personal relationship with Christ, who is himself the kingdom of heaven. Peter wisely held on to that until the very end. And in doing so, he entered into life without end.
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.