17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sunday Church at Home

during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic

The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:

Leader: ln the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All reply: Amen

Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All reply: Blessed be God for ever

Leader: Just what is the “kingdom of heaven”? There is no doubt that Jesus has a passion for the kingdom and he wants us to share it. The kingdom is a central feature in his mission of teaching and healing. But it remains elusive, even baffling, like the parables he tells that both hide and reveal.

Today Matthew brings Jesus’ Parable Sermon to a close with three more stories. Two of them call for decisive action while the third counsels patience. Faced with such different demands we might well pray as Solomon does for the gift of wisdom!
And if we feel both daunted and yet fascinated by the mystery of it all, Paul reassures us today that our lives are in good hands. God’s loving purposes will come to glorious fulfilment.

LITURGY OF THE WORD

First Reading: 1 Kings 3:5.7-12

Introduction to the reading: King Solomon ruled about 950 years before Christ. His wisdom was legendary. Today’s reading describes an event from early in Solomon’s rule that tells how he became a wise person.

A reading from the first Book of Kings
In those days: At Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.
The word of the Lord.

Responsorial psalm: Psalm 119:57,72.76-77.127-128.129-130

R/: O Lord, how I love your law.

‘O Lord, my portion
is to obey your words’.
The law from your mouth means more to me
than large quantities of silver and gold.

Let your merciful love console me
by your promise to your servant.
Show me compassion, that I may live,
for your law is my delight.

That is why I love your commands
more than finest gold,
why I rule my life by your precepts,
and hate false ways.

Your decrees are wonderful indeed;
therefore my soul obeys them.
The unfolding of your word gives light,
and understanding to the simple.

R/: O Lord, how I love your law.

Second reading: Romans 8:28-30

Introduction to the reading: As we continue our readings from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we will today hear Paul use the word predestined. This word does not mean that individuals are locked into a destiny over which they have no control. Rather, it means that in Christ, God provides abundant grace for everyone

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans
Brethren: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The Word of the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom.
Alleluia!

Gospel: Matthew 13:44-52

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Jesus said to the crowds, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The Gospel of the Lord.

Reflection on the Readings

The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.

Homily prepared by Fr Tshepo
These past two weeks our Sunday Gospel readings have focussed on the parables of Jesus. Today, we have the third and final set of readings centred on the parables of the Kingdom from Matthew, Chapter 13.

Having read the Gospels, I think that all of us are quite familiar with the parables told by Jesus. The rabbis in Israel used this form of teaching not only to preach and teach, but also to illustrate the closeness of God to human situations, and the goodness of God to His people. Parables are a form of story-telling with the aim of teaching a particular lesson. They are open-ended stories. Open-ended stories leave you hanging and it means that you are supposed to, in a sense, close it. And you close it with your own understanding of each parable. So, a parable is story, but it is a story without much conclusion, and it invites the listener to reflect, ponder, discern and pray, and come to a conclusion. Their purpose is to stimulate our imagination and we’re meant to kind of struggle with what their meaning is.

Jesus was a master teller of parables and that is why in the Gospels we find a number of parables told by him. His parables were more about the Kingdom of God, and they invite the listener to a deepened faith in the God who invites us to His Kingdom.

And so, today we are again presented with three parables, two of which are closely linked in meaning but with slight differences. The people of Jesus’ time would have understood these all very easily. Jesus drew them out from scenes of everyday life with which the people were familiar.

In the first parable Jesus compares entering the Kingdom of God to a man who finds treasure in a field. Imagine a man, walking around in a field. As he does so, he stumbles upon a little mound. Out of curiosity, he digs into the mound, and finds a huge treasure buried beneath it. Such a scenario would have been quite common in those days. Even today in certain countries where there’s a lot of turmoil going on, what the people do is hide their riches. They bury them deep in the ground. We need to remember that in the days of Jesus, ordinary people did not have banks. Only the rich had access to places where their possessions were secure. If ordinary people did have valuable things, the simplest and safest thing was to hide them under the ground. However, because of war or some other unforeseen calamity, they would have to leave their place suddenly and not be able to take their belongings with them. They might not be able to return or they might die before they could do so. Someone else, then, might stumble on their treasure and think to himself: finders keepers.

I remember when I was a young boy, when we would find something that someone else had lost, a coin, for instance, we would pick it up, make a small cross with one finger where we found it. I guess, for us, that was a gesture of acknowledging that God gave it to you. But it wasn’t that easy for the man in the parable. He couldn’t just simply acknowledge that God had given him the treasure he stumbles upon. He was not allowed to keep it. According to Roman law, finders keepers: whoever finds something by chance is entitled to keep it. However, in Hebrew law, if you found something in a field, it did not automatically belong to you, but to the owner of the field.

So, what does the man do? He comes across a treasure but the field where it is hidden does not belong to him. So, he sells everything he has in order to get ownership of the field and consequently becomes the owner of the buried treasure.

The point here is that when one really discovers the treasure that is the Kingdom of God, everything else becomes secondary. In the service of the Kingdom there are no half measures, but in that service, there is a special kind of liberating joy. This was Paul’s experience: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” he said to the Philippians (Philippians 3:8).

To have an intimate relationship with Christ and to have made his view of life one’s own is the most beautiful, the most precious thing in the world. It is not enough, of course, just to say this; one must personally experience it as a fact – as many have done and many, unfortunately, have never really tried to do. And that is the challenge of this parable. The question is, where is my treasure, the treasure for which I would give up everything I have just so I can keep it? What gives me a sure security in life? What do I love the most? What would I sacrifice my life for? What is most worthy of my time and my effort?

The second parable is similar to the first. A businessman is looking for fine pearls. When he finds the one of great value, he sells everything else he has in order to acquire it.

A slight, though significant, difference is pointed out between the two stories. In the first story, the man was not actually looking for the treasure. He seems to have found it by chance. Jesus – and the Kingdom of God — may come to us unexpectedly through some daily experience. Many people have described their conversion to Christ as happening in such an unexpected way. There is a need, as the Gospel constantly urges, for us to be ready whenever and however Jesus comes into our lives.

In the second parable, however, the man is on the lookout for fine pearls. Being a businessman, he’s on the lookout, for one of great value. He knows it must exist and he uses all his energies to find it. And when he finds it, he sells all he has and buys it. We search for meaning, for hope, for love, for God, in all different places and different experiences. The human heart, the human soul always longs for the deepest meaning, deepest hope, deepest love, for God. That’s why we are always on the lookout for the best: the best clothes, the best phone, the best diet, the best parish, the best church. We need to constantly pursue the true and full meaning of the Gospel in our lives. We need to constantly pursue a deepening of our relationship with Jesus. We always need to understand more, to love more, to serve more.
These two parables, although emphasising different things, are important for our lives as Christians.

Firstly, God is the one who always takes the initiative to seek and find us. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” he told the prophet Jeremiah. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel. And at times, we stumble upon Him who is always there for us, like the man who stumbled upon the treasure in the field. I became a Catholic by chance. I used to accompany a cousin of mine to Catechism class. I would sit and wait outside the church until they were done. One Sunday, I decided to satisfy my curiosity by seeing what it is the Catholics do at Mass. Sneaking in, and sitting in the back pew, I was hooked from that day onwards. Was it by chance? Or did I finally stumble upon a great treasure, God who was seeking after me?

Secondly, we must be in constant awareness of God’s will for us here and now, like the merchant in the second parable, who was on the lookout for a pearl of great value. There are many verses in Scripture that tell us to keep awake. Matthew, for instance, tells us: “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mt. 24:42). The Book of Revelations says: “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake” (Rev. 16:15). Paul tells the Colossians, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2); and he tells the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13).

In Grade 10, when I was looking for a career to pursue, I kept the Priesthood at the back of my mind. Not only that, but I went to Vocations Discovery Workshops, to actively discern whether or not this was my vocation. And I discovered that it was. Where would I have been now if I did not make the effort of seeking, like the man in the second parable who sought out the pearl of great value? In as much as God is the one who initiates a search for us, we also need to seek after Him, or rather we should dispose ourselves to being found by Him. Seek and you shall find: Do I seek God? Is my disposition of faith, of life, such that God can find me?

And just before we think this all sounds too idealistic and even impossible, the third parable gives us hope as individuals. The wonderful stories of the Saints are not far-fetched, they can be your story, my story, as well. The third parable reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, where everyone is the same. It is open for everyone, whoever you are. We might call it a “mix bag,” and it is. There’s a place for you, a place for me, a place for everyone. This parable reminds us that the Church and even the Kingdom of God is full of all kinds of people. Our Church is a Church of both saints and sinners. The role of the Church is to accept every person, and to lead them to the great treasure and the pearl of great value. We are meant to live in such a way that we are truly worthy of the Kingdom, worthy because we have sought the Lord, worthy because our disposition is such that He could find us. At the end of our lives, He wants us with Him in heaven; that’s why He created us! As Paul said to the Ephesians, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling” (Eph. 4:1). When I joined the Seminary, I became aware of some fellow Brothers who were much better at this Seminarian stuff than me. The bothered to show up extra-early in the chapel for prayers, they prayed the rosary daily, they spent a lot of time in the library, their afternoon siesta lasted 30 minutes rather than 2 hours. I could not measure up to their standards. But God moulds us into being the persons He wants us to be. At the end of our lives God will not as us “Why were not like St Augustine?”; “Why were you not like St Catherine?” God will ask me: “Why did you live up to being the best Tshepo I created you to be?” The lesson here is to allow ourselves to be moulded by God into being the persons we are meant to be, persons fit for His Kingdom.

It is for us to make the best use the time given to us to find the treasure, to go in search of the pearl of great value, and to embrace our identify, with Jesus, as beloved children of God, and to live lives that are really true, really good and really beautiful; lives worthy of our calling to eternal life in the Kingdom of God. What else is there?

Reflection Questions
• “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6:21)
St Augustine says that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. God is our ultimate treasure. Where is my treasure, the treasure for which I would give up everything I have just so I can keep it? Is it God? If not, what can I do to change this?
• “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” (Mt. 6:33)
In my daily life, how do I seek God?
Is my current disposition of faith, of life, such that God can find me?

Prayer for Grandparents
Today is the feast day of Sts Anne and Joachim – the parents of Mary. That makes them the grandparents of Jesus. Today we pray in a special way for all our Grandparents.

Lord Jesus,
you were born of the Virgin Mary,
the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.
Look with love on grandparents the world over.
Protect them!
They are a source of enrichment
for families, for the Church and for all of society.
Support them!
As they grow older,
may they continue to be for their families
strong pillars of Gospel faith,
guardian of noble domestic ideals,
living treasuries of sound religious traditions.

Make them teachers of wisdom and courage,
that they may pass on to future generations the fruits
of their mature human and spiritual experience.

Lord Jesus,
help families and society
to value the presence and roles of grandparents.
May they never be ignored or excluded,
but always encounter respect and love.

Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed
in all the years of life which you give them.

Mary, Mother of all the living,
keep grandparents constantly in your care,
accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage,
and by your prayers, grant that all families
may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland,
where you await all humanity for the great
embrace of life without end.
Amen

Prayer of the Faithful

Leader: “Ask what you would like me to give you,” said the Lord to Solomon. Humbly, we bring our own needs and petitions before the Lord.

Reader:

We pray for the Church: (pause) that in this time of the global pandemic, we may seek creative and meaningful ways of sharing the Gospel and of speaking of the Kingdom of God. Lord, hear us.

We pray for Church leaders: (pause) that, like Jesus, they may never tire of inspiring others to live lives worthy of their Christian calling. Lord, hear us.

We pray for our government: (pause) that they may have the common good in mind as they discern ways of coping with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lord, hear us.

We pray for our families: (pause) that through the intercession of St Joachim and St Anne, our homes may be places of love and holiness. Lord, hear us.

We pray for all grandparents: (pause) that the Lord may guide and protect them as they continue being examples of faith to their loved ones. Lord, hear us.

We pray for the sick and dying, especially those infected with the Coronavirus: (pause) that the Lord may give them hope in their illness and isolation, and help those who are taking care of them. Lord, hear us.

We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time, especially for Deceased members of Maher and De Villiers families, Helga and Eberhard Borner, Teresa Gomes, Nesbitt Kirckhoffer, Manuel Jardim, Dalia Tiziana Rota, Jean Dodds and Laura Barone. Lord hear us.

We pray for Edward Ambrogioni and Lawrence Hardy who passed away last week. We pray for all those with the Covid-19 virus who died during the week.
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord.

All: And let perpetual light shine on them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

Leader: Let us pray a PRAYER for healing.

Almighty and all-merciful God,
lover of the human race,
healer of all our wounds,
in whom there is no shadow of death,
save us in this time of crisis;
grant wisdom and courage to our leaders;
watch over all medical people
as they tend the sick and work for a cure;
stir in us a sense of solidarity beyond all isolation;
if our doors are closed, let our hearts be open.
By the power of your love destroy the virus of fear,
that hope may never die and the light of Easter,
the triumph of life,
may shine upon us and the whole world.
We ask this through our Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Holy Mary, health of the sick, pray for us.
St Joseph, guardian of us all, pray for us.

Spiritual Communion

We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.
By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us.

My Jesus,
I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment,
feed my soul at least spiritually.
I unite myself to you now as I do when I actually receive you.
Amen.

CONCLUDING RITE

Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us:

All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Leader: God of eternal wisdom,
you alone impart the gift of right judgement.
Grant us an understanding heart,
that we may value wisely
the treasure of your kingdom
and gladly forgo all lesser gifts
to possess that kingdom’s incomparable joy.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Blessing

A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:

Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

All: Amen.