As we listen to today's Scriptures, in order to reflect carefully and get the deepest meaning out of them, we must remind ourselves again how this part of Matthew's Gospel fits in with what has gone before. At the very beginning of the public life of Jesus, it's recorded this way in Mark's Gospel: Jesus begins his public preaching by proclaiming, "The reign of God is at hand. Change your lives." The reign of God is at hand. Reign to bring forth, come into our human history, transform our world into as close an image of that reign of God as possible. It's here; it's ready to break forth.
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
And perhaps we have to remind ourselves, "Well, what do we mean by the reign of God?" Sometimes, especially in Matthew's Gospel, it's called the kingdom of heaven. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." But that makes us think of a place, maybe makes us think of heaven as the afterlife. But that's not what Jesus is speaking of.
It's better to remember from Luke's Gospel how Jesus, there at the beginning of his public life and his first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth, he proclaims the words of Isaiah: "The reign, or the spirit of God, is upon me. God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, give the blind new sight, break the bonds of those who are persecuted and proclaim God's year of favor -- the jubilee year." Jesus is proclaiming a time when all of creation -- all of human life, every human person -- will come under the dynamic power of God's love.
The reign of God is really God's love over all of us, within all of us. The reign of God is the love of God according to which we live, and when the reign of God is lived by all of us, when it's come to its fullness in everyone, but especially the poor will have the good news proclaimed to them, as Jesus said. Because at that synagogue in Nazareth, he said, "This day, this Scripture passage is fulfilled as you listen." He's saying the reign of God is happening now.
But very often, isn't it true we get discouraged? We don't see that love of God over all of creation, drawing all of us, every human person, into a oneness where everyone has the fullness of life, [where] all the basic needs of every person are met. All of creation is transformed. We don't see it, and so that's why Jesus tells the parables of today. The reign of God is like a treasure hidden in the field. It's been there for a long, long time. Nobody knows it's there. Someone discovers it, goes, sells everything in order to buy that field.
The reign of God is so important. Jesus is telling us that it's worth all that we have, as he told those who wanted to follow him: "Go, sell all that you have. Come, follow me." So the reign of God is at hand, but it's hidden sometimes. ... And when we find it, when we begin to discover that the reign of God is at hand, isn't it worth changing our lives, dramatically, radically following the way of Jesus? ... Or the second parable, when Jesus talks about the reign of God is a pearl of great price. Again, you sell all that you have, let everything go in order to get that pearl, the reign of God.
As we celebrate the liturgy in this home of Franz Jägerstätter in the village of St. Radegund, isn't it possible to connect these parables with Franz Jägerstätter and his beloved wife, Franziska, who died just a year ago. These were two people who, in the midst of a world that was filled with hatred, violence, war, a following of false gods, in that kind of a world, there was this treasure hidden: Franz, Franziska, being faithful, understanding that Jesus really is making the reign of God happening, ready to give up everything in order to follow the way of Jesus.
Franz, Franziska, it seems to me, are like that hidden treasure, that pearl of great price. It's there all the time, ready to break forth. And now in our church, that treasure has been discovered, made known throughout the world. Franz is now declared blessed, held up as one to venerate. Franziska, who has died now, also is ready to be held up for all of us to follow, as they did the way of Jesus.
In our first lesson today, God asked Solomon to pray for whatever he wished. Whatever it was, God would grant it. Solomon prayed for an open heart, a loving heart, a heart that would bring him wisdom, and God granted it. That's what we need: to ask God for an open heart so that we can become wise according to the way of Jesus. And remember, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed about God and about Jesus: "My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts. As high as the heavens are above the earth, my thoughts are above your thoughts, my ways above your ways."
We must change radically. And as for St. Paul in our second lesson today urges us, and we must hear these words: "Be conformed to Christ." Be conformed to Christ. Be like Jesus; follow his way, the transforming power of love. We, too, live in a world even now that is filled with violence and hatred and wars. How is it ever going to end?
Unless more and more of us begin to have that open heart, to be wise according to the wisdom of God, to be ready to change our lives so that we follow the pattern of the life of Jesus, who offered himself out of love for all. He showed us as he was tortured, nailed to the cross, died, but died pouring forth love on all humankind, all of the creation. Pouring forth love; returning good for evil, love for hate, and that's the love that can transform our world into the reign of God.
We must, again, conform our lives to the way of Jesus: "To love one another as I have loved you." Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your life out of love for others, trusting that that gift of your love entering into the love of Jesus, becoming one with him, being conformed with him, is how we join in his work of making the reign of God happen so that our world gradually is being transformed.
And when we, our whole church, begin to live this way of Jesus, we can be confident that that fullness of life, fullness of peace for every person, for all of human history, will be there because God has promised. Franz and Franziska were hidden treasures for so long. There are hidden treasures all over our creation, and we must be part of them. Then we can have total confidence that the words of Jesus will be fulfilled. The reign of God is at hand. It will come to its fullness as we change our lives, are conformed to him, and follow him.
[Homily given at Franz Jägerstätter House of Prayer in the village of St. Radegund, Austria. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]