domenica 30 luglio 2017

«Nova et vetera»

We finish today reading the third discourse of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel—the “Sermon in parables.” We have just heard the last three parables of the discourse—the treasure buried in a field, the pearl of great price, and the net thrown into the sea.

The last-mentioned parable is very similar to that of the weeds, which we read last Sunday. In the net, there are good and bad fish; which means, in the kingdom of God, at least as long as we are on this earth, there are, mixed together, the wicked and the righteous; only at the end of the age a separation will be made. Today’s gospel mainly stresses the doom of the bad—the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. As for the good fish, it is just said that they are put into buckets.

The first two parables are very much alike. In both cases there is someone in search of something. Looking for something is not enough to find it. The finding is often the fruit of chance or a stroke of luck; we could keep searching as long as we live without finding anything. But if we do not search, we will never find for sure. That is to say, the finding of the kingdom of heaven does not depend on us; it is a gift of God. But God reveals his kingdom only to those who are looking for it. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” says Jesus in the Sermon of the mount (Mt 6:33).

In both cases what is found is priceless: a treasure and a pearl of great value. The finder immediately realizes the preciousness of his discovery. We also should be able to recognize the supreme value of the kingdom of heaven. Which does not mean that other things are worthless; but only that they have a lower value compared to the kingdom of God. We should learn to give each thing its own value, and distinguish what is worth more and what is worth less. To do this, we need that understanding, that wisdom, for which Solomon asked God in the first reading. It is the discernment by which we can distinguish the value of each thing, without despising anything, but also without overestimating anything. In the opening prayer of this Mass, we have asked the Lord that “we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure.”

But we should have no illusions about that; we cannot think that it is possible, in this life, to keep everything. Life is made of choices and sacrifices. More often than not, in order to get something, we have to renounce something else. In the two parables, the protagonists, once found what they were looking for and ascertained its value, sell all that they have to buy it. So, we also, after discovering the kingdom of heaven and establishing its inestimable value, should be willing to give up anything to obtain it. Not all are requested to renounce everything to get the kingdom of God; but each one should be ready to do it, if necessary.

Speaking of renunciation should not sadden us. The man who finds the treasure—but we could think the same of the merchant who finds the pearl—“out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” He does not care that he has to give up all his things, because he knows that only in that way he can come into possession of something much more precious than them. That is why he is full of joy in selling his assets. Let us always remember that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor 9:7).

At the end of his discourse, Jesus asks his disciples if they have understood his teachings. Understanding is essential. If you remember the parable of the sower, hearing the word of God without understanding is totally useless; only the one who understands it can bear fruit.

Then Jesus adds a strange statement about scribes. Usually, in the gospel, the scribes are those teachers who have the task of interpreting the Scriptures. Sometimes they are called scholars of the law. They are often connected with the Pharisees; and Jesus criticizes them together. But here we see that a scribe can be converted to the gospel. Some scholars see in this scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven the evangelist Matthew himself; but maybe every disciple should be so. Well, such a scribe is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old (nova et vetera). The new testament does not abolish the old one, but fulfills it. The gospel is not something totally new; it is just the renewal of something already existing. Jesus invites us to draw from our treasure—that is, our heart—the new and the old, to put together his teaching with the ancient wisdom of Israel. Everything comes from God.