17th Sun. in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12, Rm 8:28-30, Mt 13:44-52
In chapter 5 of the Acts of the Apostles, we read the account of Ananias and Sapphira. They sold a piece of property, and, instead of giving all the proceeds to the Apostles, they held some back as a safety net. It’s a memorable story and we all remember how they were struck down dead. Probably, the main offense here was deception. They tried to pass themselves off as giving the whole amount to the Apostles and the fledgling community. But the point I want to highlight is this tendency to hedge our bets and take out an insurance policy. God is looking for generous, even reckless givers who are willing to throw it all away for him. He wants us to make that leap of faith with only him to catch us.
Our gospel reading today started off with two parables: the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. In both parables the person sells all that he has in order to obtain the desired object. And he does it, not begrudgingly, but with great joy and enthusiasm. In order to become monks here at Genesee we had to sell all we had. God was that treasure and pearl that we threw it all away for. And yet, even when we’re here we can start taking back some of our own will and not be completely generous, not give God a blank check. As Fr. John Vianney said in one of his homilies awhile back, we somehow fear that God will not be enough. Or we want the best of both worlds; we want to have our cake and eat it too.
In a passage from The Way of Divine Love Jesus is instructing Josepha about when he was carrying his cross. He has this to say,
Contemplate Me on the way to Calvary loaded with My heavy Cross, watch Simon carrying it behind Me and consider two things; though he was a man of good will, yet he was mercenary, and if he carried My Cross, it was for pay. So when he began to tire, he allowed the weight to bear more and more on Me, and that is how I fell twice.
Secondly, this man helped Me to bear part of My Cross, but not the whole of it. There are many souls following in My footsteps who accept to help Me carry My Cross but they are troubled about their own rest and comfort. . . . Many consent to come after Me, and for that reason embrace a perfect life, but they do not give up all self-interest, which still in some cases remains their chief interest. They hesitate and let My Cross fall when it weighs too heavily on them. They try to avoid suffering, count the cost of abnegation, turn away from humiliation, work or fatigue whenever they can. They look back regretfully at what they have given up and try to obtain at least certain pleasures. In a word, their souls are so egoistical and selfish that they follow Me more for their own sake than for Mine. They accept only what they cannot avoid, or what is of strict obligation . . . and so carry only a small part of My Cross and in such a way as barely to acquire the merit indispensable for salvation. In the next world they will see how far behind they lagged.
On the other hand, there are many souls who, urged on by the hope of salvation but still more by the motive of love, are resolute in their determination to follow Me in the Way of the Cross. They eagerly embrace the perfect life and devote themselves to My service in order to carry, not part of the Cross, but the whole of it. Their one desire is to relieve and comfort Me. They offer themselves for all My will may ask and seek out all that may give Me pleasure. They think neither of reward nor of their own merits, nor of the fatigues and sufferings that may accrue to them, their one object being to show Me their love and console My heart.
If My Cross comes to them in the shape of illness, if it is hidden under some employment that goes against the grain or is little adapted to their talents . . . if it has all the appearance of being the result of forgetfulness or opposition from those around them, they recognize and accept it with all the submission of which their will is capable. . . .
When a soul loves truly, she neither measures what she does nor weighs what she suffers; never looking for reward, and seeking only what she believes to be for God’s greater glory, she never says ‘enough’ when labour or fatigue are in question . . . and because of her aim, whatever the result, she neither excuses herself nor protests her good intentions; her motive being love, her efforts and sufferings always give glory to God. She is not troubled nor does she lose her peace of mind if she meets with contradiction or persecution or humiliation, as her sole motive is love and she leaves results in Love’s hands. (p. 322)
God is asking for us to be all in. He understands our tendency to be mercenary—to do things for our own self-interest rather than for his. He’s asking us to keep moving in the direction of selling all and not keeping any of the proceeds back. We will not be completely satisfied until he alone is our treasure and pearl of great price.
Let us conclude, then, with the opening words of the ancient Shema, prayed by faithful Jews and Christians for millennia: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”