EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 27, 2008:
You’ve probably noticed, as I have, all of the commercials on television for the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing beginning on 8-8-08. I am very excited for the games. I always love to watch the Olympics, especially the summer games. In addition to the competitions though, I’m always so moved by the human interest stories of the incredible things that so many of these athletes do in order to be the champions that they are.
I’m reminded of a story from a few years ago about a group of teens who belong to the Santa Clara Swimming Club. Every morning they get up at 5:30 and hurry through the chilly air to an outdoor pool. There they swim for two solid hours. After a shower and a quick breakfast, they hurry off to school. After school, they return to the pool for two more hours of swimming. At 5:00 they hurry home, hit the books, eat a late supper and fall into bed exhausted. The next morning the alarm rings at 5:30 and they start the whole thing over again.
When asked why the follow such a disciplined schedule, one girl said, “My only goal is to make the Olympic team. If going to parties hurts that, then why go? There is no such thing as too much work. The more miles I swim, the better. Sacrifice is the thing.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.” Had Jesus lived now rather than around the year 30, today’s Gospel might have been very different. Rather than talk about a pearl merchant who sacrificed all to buy a dream pearl, or a farmer who sold all to buy a field with a treasure in it, Jesus might have talked about a Santa Clara swimmer who sacrificed all to make the Olympic team. What is the connection between a pearl merchant, a treasurer seeker and a Santa Clara swimmer? The one thing they all have in common is their total commitment to a dream.
All three are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal they have set for themselves. To own the perfect pearl; to obtain a rare treasure; or to make the Olympic swimming team. This leads us to the point of today’s Gospel. Citizenship in God’s kingdom involves total commitment on our part. We cannot pursue the kingdom as we do a part-time job. We cannot work at it as we do a hobby. We must give ourselves to it 100%. We must make the Kingdom of God the top priority of our lives.
Being a Christian is like being a pearl merchant, a treasure seeker or a Santa Clara swimmer. It involves total dedication and commitment. But there is one major difference between a committed Christian and the other three. St. Paul refers to it in his first letter to the Corinthians. He says, “Every athlete in training submits to a strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever.”
That’s the difference. The pearl, the treasure, the swimmer’s medal are all perishable – here today, gone tomorrow. When the pearl merchant dies that pearl will no longer have any value for him. When the farmer dies, his treasure will be as useless to him as the box he found it in. When the swimmer dies, her medal will be just another keepsake for her family. But when a committed Christian dies, the Kingdom of God will shine brighter and brighter and brighter. And that brightness will last forever. At the moment of death, there is only one thing that counts. It is not whether, in life, we acquired great things – pearls, treasures or medals. The only thing that will matter is what we have become in the process of seeking the things we seek in life.
A Chicago high school basketball team had just celebrated Mass in preparation for the state championship tournament. During the homily, the priest said that 10 years from now the important thing about their season will not be whether or not they became champs. It will be what they became in the process of trying to win the title. Did they become better human beings? More loving? More loyal to one another? More committed? Did they grow as a team and as people?
After Mass, the priest overheard the coach speaking to his players, “Father said something that is bothering me. I wonder what I have helped you become in the process of trying to put together a winning season. Did you become better, more loving, more loyal, more committed? Did we grow? If you did, then regardless of what we do in the tournament, we are a success. If you did not, then we have failed God, our school and one another. I pray to God that we have not failed.”
Today’s Gospel makes this point: Nothing in the world may take priority over God’s kingdom and our pursuit of it. Today’s Gospel tells us that what counts in the end is not what we have acquired in life, but what we have become in life.
Lord, give us the commitment in our faith that the swimmer, the pearl merchant and the farmer had in their pursuits. If they can sacrifice so much for a prize that will perish, give me the strength to sacrifice for your Kingdom which will last forever.
May God give you peace.