17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020 – Cycle A

26 July 2020

1 Kings 3:5, 7-12            Romans 8:28-30            Matthew 13:44-52

The hidden treasure

One day God decided to launch a treasure hunt on earth. So he called his angels and gave them a priceless treasure to bring to earth, instructing them to hide it so that people would have to search for it and might have the joy of finding it. ‘Shall we hide it on the highest mountain, the angels asked. ‘No’, answered God, ‘because only the fittest and healthiest could climb that mountain and the weak would have no chance’. Again the angels asked: ‘Shall we put it on the furthest shores of the ocean’.  ‘No’, answered God, ‘because only the rich people could afford to travel so far and the poor would have no chance.’  ‘Where then shall we put it?’ the angels asked. ‘Put it within reach of everybody, rich or poor, healthy or weak. Plant it in the centre of their beings. Hide it in their hearts.’

We are all treasure hunters. We seek the ‘pearl of great price’, the one thing that will answer our deepest yearning and make us truly happy. The problem is that we spend a lot of time looking for it in the wrong places – outside ourselves and end up frustrated. The treasure we seek is the presence of God for which our hearts were made. St Augustine writes movingly about his own experience of seeking and finally discovering this divine treasure in his famous autobiography, The Confessions. After a fruitless search for this treasure outside himself, he finally discovers it in the depths of his own heart. His words convey his joy in discovering the hidden treasure:  ‘Late have I loved you, o beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.

The quest for the divine treasure was the great passion that dominated the life of the nineteenth-century English poet and mystic, Francis Thompson. He had become a destitute opium addict, begging on the streets of London when he discovered the presence of God in his own heart. His poem, In no Strange Land, reflects this discovery and reminds us that the divine presence is closer to us than we are to ourselves. I quote a few lines from this beautiful poem:

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

Today’s gospel invites us to hearken to the divine presence within our own hearts for there is found the hidden treasure we seek, the priceless pearl for which we must give up all we possess. Yes, there is a price to be paid for the divine treasure. We have to make choices, to let go of the things that distract us from the quest – things we foolishly imagine will make us happy. such as power, or wealth, or success. Like Solomon in our first reading today we need ‘a discerning heart’ to keep us on the right path, the path that leads us to the secret treasure hidden by the angels. Sometimes, perhaps, we may have found the treasure and then left it aside or forgotten about it. However, like the Welsh priest poet, R. S. Thomas, we can recover it by slowing down, turning aside, and attending to a ‘brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth’. The poem was written as a reflection on the parable of the hidden treasure and is entitled, The Bright Field. It’s short, so I’ll quote it in full.

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past.

It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

One of the great blessings of ageing and retirement is the opportunity it gives us to slow down and turn aside to the miracles we may have missed in our busy days of doing great things for God. We can begin to embrace the eternity that awaits us and appreciate the treasure hidden in our hearts. This is nothing less than the reflection of God within us. It is a treasure beautiful beyond words and more than worth whatever it takes to find it.

Michael McCabe SMA, Cork

Click on the play button below to listen to an alternative homily from Fr Tom Casey SMA