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Seventeenth Sunday in ordinary time: Discovering for ourselves

Today’s readings: 1 Kings 3, 5.7-12; Romans 8, 28-30; Matthew 13, 44-52.

It is no secret that D. H. Lawrence, an early 20th century novelist, was not particularly fond of the Church or of Christianity. For him, Christianity was a spent force. In 1924 he wrote: “If I had lived in the year 400, I should have been a true and passionate Christian. The adventurer. But now I live in 1924, and the Christian venture is done. The adventure is gone out of Christianity. We must start on a new venture towards God.”

These are words which in the light of today’s Scriptures and in the context in which we live could sound very true. We belong to a religion which itself developed through discontinuity from another religion and which throughout its history constantly sought to respond to emerging crises and threats, at times finding refuge in dogma and at other times by evolving to adequately meet the cultural or political challenges.

Dogma has always been considered the backbone of religion. It was through dogma that the tradition received was secured. Yet we all acknowledge that ‘dogmatism’ can at the same time be an attitude or mentality that distorts the essence of Christianity. It is not at all healthy for us people of religion to nurture a siege mentality that perceives social and cultural developments more as threats rather than challenges.

From the first Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts, to Vatican Council II, Christianity thrived by rising to the situation and venturing on new interpretations and on innovation. Jesus stands for discontinuity from Judaism precisely in projecting life as adventurous, risky, a journey in search of a hidden treasure. The analogies with a merchant looking for fine pearls or with a fisherman casting his dragnet into the sea are very telling. Jesus is affirming that in life, particularly in our call to discipleship, we can never be spared the searching.

This is the big challenge we are facing today as Church in our mission to evangelise. Evangelisation is not regurgitating the past or simply passing on a tradition received. The challenge the Church faces in these times is how to be provocative rather than conservative. The Gospel is challenging and provokes us on a very personal level to learn how to search for ourselves and see faith as adventurous rather than monotonous.

This can sound too innovative to a generation that happens to be Christian without having searched and discovered. The patrimony of our faith was simply given to us as a treasure sought and discovered by ancestors but which unfortunately is hardly owned by the majority of those who claim to belong to this tradition. This is actually the tragedy of Christianity which in our times has become a spent force. We were born Christians, and many of us never had the opportunity to seek and choose for ourselves.

We preached a kingdom of heaven without a cost; we proclaimed a grace that was cheap enough to be remote-controlled, the fruit of a deadly sacramental automatism. There is a striking contrast in today’s gospel between someone who by coincidence finds a treasure hidden in a field and a merchant looking for fine pearls. The latter, being a merchant, knew exactly what he was looking for. In both cases though, the highlight is that they did not bother about the cost from the moment they discovered the treasure.

It is no use struggling to make people belong again if that belonging is not the fruit of their own discovery. Discipleship in the Gospel sense cannot be translated as simply a stereotype form of fidelity to a tradition received. It has to be a new venture towards God. That, of itself, would shower an extraordinary wisdom on us that would give us a radically new perspective on life.

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