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Finders keepers

August 2, 2014

I was always a little worried that the guy who found the treasure diddled the owner of the field out of the hidden treasure. Well, that wasn’t the way they saw it 2,000 years ago…….

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

17th Sunday of the Year (27th July 2014)

From the marvels of modern science we have discovered that our intellect, our ability to use our imagination, to reason intelligently, and the source of our willfulness, all these things operate through the mechanism of our brains; But ancient people thought that what we call ‘brain functions’ took place in the heart – they saw the heart as the very centre of a person’s being, the place where the person focused their thoughts and ideas, the place where their very soul resided. This is very significant for us Christians, because nowadays people confuse being religious with being emotional and sentimentality – the heart. In fact the media seems to mercilessly mock and misrepresent people of faith for being pathetic, gullible fools. I heard an example of this last week on a BBC Radio 4 programme called the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ . Some well-known scientists thought is highly intellectual and trendy to laugh at us religious fools by casually using the language of Christian theology to talk about ‘the resurrection of a strawberry’. Yes, you heard me right, the ‘resurrection of a strawberry’.

Now today we have heard that King Solomon prayed for God to give him “a heart to discern between good and evil”. Our modern society is awash with sentimentality – so many people run their lives according to their ‘feelings’. If an individual ‘feels’ something to be true for them as an individual, it must be true. As Christians, despite all the atheistic propaganda to the contrary you might hear on TV and radio, we Christians should not think like that. Why should this be?

Being a Christian isn’t about touchy-feely sentimentality. It is about being “heard-headed”, practical and rational, co-operating with God by using our reason to decide how to worship and understand God. Were King Solomon to be around today, when asked by God what he wanted to be given, I think he would reply, ‘Make your servant hard-headed to be able to discern between good and evil…’.

Being hard-headed is linked to the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. Now the story of finding buried treasure, buying the field then making off with the treasure always seems a little dodgy to me. Somewhere along the line, hasn’t the legitimate owner been tricked out what is rightfully his? Surely that can’t be right. Can you imagine if the guy finding the Staffordshire Hoard with a metal detector had done that? He’d have end up in jail for stealing!

Once again, we need to understand the different way of understanding things in Jesus’ time. The Jewish law then was very different from our modern English law.

In the first century in Palestine people didn’t have bank vaults to keep their valuables safe. Instead it was very common to bury them to keep them safe, especially if they were under threat of losing them – and in Jesus’ times many people faced the risk from of bailiffs coming to their houses and seizing goods in payment for the heavy Roman taxes.

But what if the owner died and the buried treasure was lost. Who owned it then? Well, under Jewish law the treasure would never have belonged in any way to the owner of the field in the parable – when he had come into possession of that field, he only owned the field: Jewish legal logic was that you couldn’t buy something you didn’t know about. No, Jewish law, unlike ours, was definitely ‘finders keepers’. He didn’t find the treasure, so he had no right to it; only the finder of the treasure could own it – once he had bought the field!

There is a significant message hidden for us in this parable that explains why some people take their Christian faith very seriously but most people stay at home instead of coming to church. And it is this: just because something is very valuable does not mean that everyone can see it. The Kingdom of Heaven is very valuable, but for most people, they cannot see it. They don’t “get it”. Why is it that some find the treasure and some don’t? Why is it that some extremely clever intellectual people go further, and for cheap laughs publicly reject and mock those who believe in God? The difference is faith. And faith is a gift from God. It is not inherited or caught from parents. It can be offered by God, but because it is not recognised, it can be rejected. To nurture one’s faith, one needs to be open to God in the first place. Sadly some people get distracted by the charms of this world – fame, fortune, showing off. Others don’t ‘get God’ because they just don’t seem able to let go and allow God to touch them. They know there must be ‘something’ there, but it just doesn’t seem to click.

Now, did you notice how in the first reading it is God who is the one who comes to Solomon. God chooses to speak to Solomon. Sure, Solomon had been offering sacrifices to God before he had his encounter with God. So Solomon was searching very hard for God, he put himself in the right place and the right frame of mind to have an encounter with God.…. but then it was God who chose to speak to Solomon in a dream. In a dream. How do we know Solomon had a dream? He must have told someone about it, and the story was written down. Solomon was given the gift to discern that he was very close to God. He didn’t “feel” God present with his bodily senses when he was fully conscious. Instead he discerned the presence of God in a message sent in a dream, when he was completely at rest and not distracted by the busyness of the world. This is what St Paul means in the second lesson when he says that it is God who chooses us for His purposes, not us choosing God. We call this reaching out by God ‘grace’. Some people are sensitive to God working in their lives, they are given the gift of discerning what is God’s will for them. Solomon found hidden treasure by recognising what had happened to him, and he acted upon it – he sought advice about his dream. Solomon was certainly a wise king of Israel, and he was certainly chosen by God for a special purpose, but that did not mean he was a perfect saint in this world. He was a warrior king, with the power of liofe and death over others, he made mistakes, he committed sins.

The same is true for us. We must relentlessly pray to God to give us faith and help us keep our faith. And when God reaches out to us, we must be ready to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that we can recognise that God is very close to us and is involved in our daily lives. When he reaches out to us might not recognise that hidden treasure for what it really is. We might think it’s nothing, because we don’t “feel” any emotion. That is the way of the world, to expect our lives to be based entirely upon what our senses detect, rejecting anything that is spiritual as nonsense.

The eternal truths taught by the Church, the power and richness of the Scriptures, and the graces we receive from taking part in worshipping God and receiving the Sacraments during this Mass – these things are hidden from most people and don’t make any sense. Through the gift of Faith, through God’s grace, we come to discover God’s treasures. Once discovered we must be very careful that we don’t squander them or become complacent about them. Because there is a real danger that we too may fail to share those treasures with others. Being a Christian is a hard-headed, lifestyle choice. It is not an easy path to follow. But as faithful Christians we have been chosen by God and given a solemn responsibility to make sure, as best we can, that the Kingdom of God is not neglected, that our Faith is not unseen in the world and therefore forgotten. Some of the cleverest people of this world reject God and want everyone to worship their god, the false god of materialism that rejects the one True God, preaching that the greatest event in human history – the incarnation of God as a human and the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, can be publicly compared to the resurrection of a strawberry. What clever fools they are.

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