17th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

They come about it in different ways.  A man stumbles on a treasure buried in a field.  He reburies it elsewhere on the land and then sells all he has and purchases the entire lot so as to obtain his treasure. (It sounds a little sketchy, but the Rabbis of the time it was, for lack of a better word, “Kosher.”)  Another man, this one seeking wealth, finally finds the pearl of great price.  He too leaves it, sells all that he has, to buy the pearl. Neither man can consult with anyone for fear the secret value would be revealed.    They have come to a decision point that is instinctual and will change their life forever.

We all have, or will one day, come to this type of decision.  It is not the moment you fall in love or the moment of inspiration with a great ideal.  It is the moment when you decide to surrender everything for your vocation; to what God is calling you to.  With this person I will build my family.  This is how I want to serve God.

What is remarkable about the two stories in the Gospel is that neither man hesitates or regrets even though it is the greatest risk of their life.  It is “out of joy” that the man surrenders all that he has to claim the treasure.  Come to think of it, those moments of ultimate dedication – marriages and ordinations – are also celebrated with joy.  It seems we are meant to give ourselves completely to possess something precious.

I remember coming to that point in my life.  It was not when I entered seminary.  Going to seminary is like dating the church.  It was about half way through when I knew priesthood was definitely what I wanted.  It was an interesting time as my friends were making their own ultimate decisions, starting their families.  And although my path was less heavily traveled than theirs, it would be wider and less intimate, but not without intimacy, we would be on the same journey of commitment and service to our people and our God.

By the way, it seems an appropriate time to mention that I know you know that I am busy.  But please believe me, I am never too busy to be available.  As they say in sports, the most important ability is availability.  As parents and children need to be open to each other to fulfill what is critical in their relationship, I promise to be there for you.

After all, once we have made that commitment, we tend not to regret that we gave too much; we regret what we held in reserve – a little more patience, another hug, another try.  Yes, it is a risk, and nothing is guaranteed.  But we should not confuse success with fidelity, for we can only control the latter.  In my saner moments, I try not to think of whether something succeeded – should we have merged? What about the school? Is this homily going anywhere?  Instead I focus on the process.  Did I pray enough, love enough, give enough?

For I believe it is at the heart of our creation that we feel a need to give it all away for Jesus Christ lives within us and he was the master of surrender.  In Greek, the term is called kenosis, the emptying of one’s self.  Christ’s life was a continuous pouring forth.  Look how he began.  A miraculous birth, heralded by angels as Messiah and Lord, imbued with great power. Look how he ended.  Nearly abandoned, forsaken and hated while dying on the cross. What happened in between?  No one took anything from him.  He gave it all away that we might be saved.  We are the pearl of great price.

Our closest imitation of Jesus can be found in that which we are willing to give everything for as he did for us.  To serve our vocation is to serve God and others.  Ultimately, our surrender is our victory.