The following is a homily for the seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings can be found here.
Our readings today play heavily on the idea of desire. In a dream, God tells Solomon to ask for anything that he wants, to make known the thing that he wants most in the whole world; our Gospel tells of multiple people finding something of great worth, fulfilling a deep desire. Having heard these passages today, we might find ourselves daydreaming, digging deep into the recesses of hearts wondering, “What would I ask for? What do I want above all else?” And that’s great. It’s a fascinating question for sure, one that would serve us all well to ask in prayer, that might reveal a bit about who we are and where we’re going.
Yes, we could spend our morning fantasizing about what we want, but I’m not sure that that would the most fruitful use of our time. You see, so often, we get stuck fantasizing about a perfect world, stuck dreaming about what we really want, that we fail to do anything about it. We think and we wish and we hope for a better life, but it never goes anywhere beyond thoughts and wishes and hopes. Sometimes, sadly, what we truly want is right before us, right within our grasp, being offered to us by God… but we are unwilling to make any sacrifices to get it.
In our Gospel today, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to people finding a treasure of great worth, things that they desire above all else. They are not just happy to find them, not just hopeful that these things will one day be theirs: they go out of their way to get them. Without hesitation, the passage says that they sell all that they have to get it. “Take my money, I don’t care. I must have that.” They know how much they want that thing, how insufficient their life will be without it, and so they give up everything to get it. “What good is having all my stuff if I don’t have that?” Sometimes, to get what we really want, to get the greatest things, we have to sacrifice even some of the good things.
It reminds me of a time when I worked at a parish in Virginia about an hour outside of DC. One of the employees, of all things, was a former rockstar. Literally. For years he had toured the country playing music; he had multiple record deals, songs that appeared on major television shows; he even had music videos of his band on YouTube, professionally produced stuff. He never reached universal stardom, you’ve probably never heard of him or his band, but the man had lived the dream. He was a legit rockstar, making a living doing what so many people can only fantasize about.
Which, if you’re me, naturally raises the question: what the heck are you doing here? This was a talented guy who was still pretty young, still loved to make music—working a part-time job at a small parish 3000 miles from home. What are you doing here?
Turns out, rockstars have a certain appeal to women—who knew?—and he met the love of his life. This woman was even more talented than him in her field, and she got offered a once-in-a-lifetime job, something, believe it or not, that is even cooler than being a rockstar… that required them to move from LA to DC… that required him to essentially hang up his career.
And so that’s what he did. He moved to a place where he didn’t know anyone, where there is no music scene, where continuing to live as a rockstar simply wasn’t possible. He did this not because he wanted to give up music—he loved it. He did this not because his wife forced him against his will—they came to the decision together. No, he did willingly, even with some joy, because his wife was the most important thing in his life, not his music. Her happiness, not his career, was what he loved most. As good as his life was before, as much as he loved playing in a band in LA, it wasn’t as great as his wife and kids.
He had found the pearl of great price, and he was willing to sell all he had to get it. What good is holding onto all this good stuff if we let the great get away.
When you put it that way, what Jesus is talking about today seems immensely simple. If you were to have on one side everything we own, everything about us, everything we could ever do, and on the other side you were to have the Kingdom of Heaven—an existence of total bliss, eternity loving and serving God—the decision would be really easy, right? We would all pick door number two. Without question! You can have all my stuff. You can have everything to my name. Take my life! I don’t care. Give me the Kingdom! When you put them side to side, when you see the great treasure next to everything that is ours, there is no real comparison.
And yet, when I look at my own life—maybe it’s true for you as well—I find myself passively picking door number one. I profess with my lips that all I want is God, that all I want is to live in heaven forever… all the while clinging to stuff that doesn’t really matter. Every single day I am offered the choice between the true treasure of a life with Christ and what I already have, and almost every single day I find myself unwilling to make a sacrifice, unwilling to sell all that I have to get it.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be possessions or money. Those things, eh, who cares to me. I’m a Franciscan. You can’t tempt me with stuff. But do you know what you can tempt me with? Success. Reputation. What people think about me. There’s something about being good at stuff, winning, having things turn out just the way that I planned that I struggle to sell, that I find myself clinging to from time to time. The treasure is right in front of me and Jesus is saying, “Come, follow me, and I’ll give you the greatest joy you’ll ever know. All you have to do is give up your reputation, your need to be liked, and rest in the success of the cross. Sell all you have and this will be yours.” How simple, right? Who needs control when Jesus is leading the way. And yet, I cling to it.
Maybe you’re like that as well. Or maybe… maybe the thing you cling to and refuse to sell isn’t money, isn’t success, but is actually your need to be in control, to make your own decisions. Maybe, it’s your desire for safety and comfort. Maybe it’s your constant need to be right and inability to admit fault, to say you’re sorry. Maybe it’s the grudges you hold, the anger you carry with you for past hurts. Maybe it’s your fear of the unknown.
While many preachers will look at these readings today and ask you to think about what you truly desire, I think there’s a far more important question to tackle here: what is it that gets in the way of what you desire? What is it that you cling to, that you refuse to sell, that keeps you from your most prized treasure?
Our Lord may not come to us in a dream and tell us to ask for anything we want, but he is offering us the greatest gift we could ever imagine: eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. This gift is free, but it does have a cost. It does take some sacrifice. Sell all you have and receive the gift God is offering us.