The Cost of
Discipleship... and of Disciples by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
"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. 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. 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.
Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Yes." And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."
We do not like to speak of spiritual things in mercantile terms. It tends, we think, to sully the purity of the spiritual. But Our Lord had no such qualms. To describe the kingdom of heaven He uses the image of a man selling all he has to purchase a field. And - even more mercantile - pearl of great price" and sells all he has to buy it. (cf. Mt 13:44-46) Is He reducing the Christian life to commerce, to just an exchange of goods?
Obviously, the kingdom of heaven - that is, the life of Christ within us - cannot be purchased or earned. It is a free gift. But by these parables Our Lord calls our attention to the cost of discipleship, of being a disciple. They prompt the questions, How much is the kingdom of heaven worth to you? How much are you willing to give to have that intimate and eternal relationship with God? The parables shock us into realizing the "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:8) We should grasp that this is indeed worth selling all we have in order to gain it.
Further, these two images convey, not only that the kingdom of heaven is worth the investment, but also that it in fact requires such a sacrifice. Unless we give all, we will not experience the kingdom's gifts. If we do not have the kingdom's peace and joy (cf. Rom 14:17), then perhaps we have not given all. Like any game, contest or investment, we need to be "full in" in order to win. Most of us give partially, in small measures ... and then wonder why we do not experience the promises of the kingdom.
As with most parables, however, we can look at the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price in another manner. Msgr. Ronald Knox observes that we can understand our Lord Himself to be the man Who finds a treasure buried in a field. He Himself is the merchant Who finds the pearl of great price. The treasure and the pearl represent the Church - and every soul therein. Indeed, we are very much like that treasure buried in a field - someone valuable to the Lord, but whose beauty is concealed, seen by Him alone. The Church is the pearl that so captivates the divine Merchant that He sells all He has to gain it. Jesus in fact gave away all He had in order to gain us. He came to buy us back, "to give His life as a ransom for many." (Mt 20:28) We have been "bought with a price." (cf. 1Cor 6:20, 7:23)
So these images express two truths: on our part, the cost of being disciples; on our part, the cost of being disciples; on our Lord's part, the cost of gaining disciples. And these two interpretations really comprise a unity. Together they express a fundamental truth of Christianity - that God and man seek one another. Even as man searches for God, God is already searching for man. We seek the One Who seeks us.
These interpretations indeed go together - but Knox's is primary. For the only reason we can hope to become disciples - to possess the treasure and the pearl - is because Our Lord has first given everything to possess us. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. ... We love because he first loved us." (1Jn 4:10, 19) We can find Him because He has first found us.
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