17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 30, 2017 [Matthew 13:44-52]
“…out of joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Mat 13:44).”
From today’s parables, we learn that Jesus appreciates human labor, the use of technology, and economic activities. The parables speak of men buying and selling land, merchants making transactions, and fisher folk catching and selecting the fish. Yet, the appreciation comes with a particular condition: the activities have to be honest and just.
I used to question why the man in the parable has to buy the land first before he takes the hidden treasure. He could have taken the treasure away even without buying the land. I realize that the buried treasure might be in a massive quantity that to unearth it requires a lot of effort, but it is also something to do with a right ownership. In ancient times, burying or hiding one’s wealth is not uncommon, especially in time of war and chaos. The treasure must have been hidden for a long period of time and the original owners are no longer alive to claim it. It also does not belong to the current landowner because he is oblivious to its presence in his land. Thus, by selling everything he has, and buying the field, he wants to make sure that he becomes the rightful owner of the land and all that is in it.
The second parable speaks of a merchant, and being a merchant is a profession that many people hate in ancient Israel. They do not like merchants because this work is susceptible to deceit and dishonesty. Yet, today’s parable gives us a merchant who is willing to sell everything he has, just to buy the fine pearl. It is a risky and even dangerous move since he is left with nothing and a serious possibility that he will not profit from the rare pearl, but instead employing some illegal tricks, he makes sure that he will become a true owner of that precious gem.
To be involved in various kinds of economic activities and works is not only necessary for human survival but also part of God’s plan for our flourishing. Our intellectual capacity that God gives empowers us to create professions that do not only sustain our lives, but also build up human society and even the Kingdom of God. With the advances of science and technology, new occupations that did not exist ten years ago now are part of our daily lives. IT experts, software developers and men and women working in robotic industries are few examples of these. Yet, traditional works remain essential. Teachers, farmers, fishermen, business men and women, and many others are still the backbone of healthy society. Jesus appreciates all of this.
One thing, however, that corrupts this human capacity to work is greed, an inordinate passion to gain more profit at the expense of others. One of the basic economic laws is the principle of efficiency, that is to get the maximum benefit with minimum amount of resources. This law is balanced by the principle of equity, that is to distribute the economic prosperity fairly among the members of the society. Unfortunately, greed destroys this balance and corrupts people to sacrifice other people and nature just to gain more profit. Jesus calls us not only to be involved in the economic activities, but also to uphold honesty and justice. Only with these two virtues, do we find true satisfaction in labor and contribute to the greater good of society, and in fact, give glory God.
Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP