17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Published: July 27, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at a Mass during a family reunion at Lake Texoma, Okla. on Sunday, July 27, 2014.

Bishop Taylor

Did you realize that everyone here is a dual national? You are a dual national when you owe allegiance to two countries, two kingdoms, often born into one and naturalized into the other. Usually this presents no problem because the chosen allegiance into which one was naturalized takes precedence over the place of birth, despite the sentimental attachment one continues to feel to the people and customs of one's place of origin.

But when the two do come into conflict, the chosen allegiance takes precedence. And what are the two countries, the two kingdoms to which you owe allegiance? The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven. We were born American citizens, but in baptism we died to this world and were reborn as naturalized citizens of heaven. We feel sentimental attachment to our fellow Americans and are grateful for the institutions and customs of our nation, but our chosen allegiance to the kingdom of heaven takes precedence when — as frequently occurs — the two come into conflict.

This is why 12 of Jesus' parables begin with the phrase "the kingdom of heaven is like ..." We have four of them in today's Gospel: The kingdom of heaven is 1.) like a treasure buried in a field, 2.) like a merchant searching for fine pearls, 3.) like a net thrown into the sea, and 4.) a scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old — the former allegiance and the new. In these parables we learn that while God offers us this far better life, we have to choose it like an immigrant chooses his new homeland: embracing its values, its way of thinking. 

We pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God every time we say the Lord's Prayer.

We pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God every time we say the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come (not any lesser kingdom of this world), thy will be done (not the contrary will of any earthly ruler) on earth (establishing justice here and now — this is not just a matter of personal piety) as it is in heaven" (meaning completely) ...

We say these words, but do we mean them? "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field;" are we willing to sell all that we have to acquire it? Or are we still holding something back, still letting a lesser allegiance drive much of our decision-making? For instance the pursuit of possessions, power, pleasure or prestige? "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a search for fine pearls," but do we even care about searching for our pearl of great price? 

Think of the great risks that today's refugees from Central America are willing to run and the adversities they have to overcome and the tremendous sacrifices they make along the way in their search for a better life in this earthly "promised land" of the United States — about which I have just issued a formal statement this week. 

Do you want to share in the life of the kingdom of heaven that bad? Or having been raised in the Church and received so many spiritual advantages, are you the spiritual equivalent of those Americans who just take all our blessings for granted? This leads to alienation and loss of faith. It increases the likelihood that such Americans will squander the very freedoms that newly naturalized citizens find so dear. And that such Christians will squander the spiritual gifts that new converts find so dear.

By inviting you to share in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is giving you the opportunity of a lifetime. But for that gift to make a difference in your life, you have to make it your own — and no one else can do that for you. Like immigrants wanting a better life for their children, your parents had you baptized ... but now it is up to you to decide what you're going to do.

Are you going to cast your lot with the kingdom of this world, even though you know better — even though you know it leads to ruin? Or are you going to cast your lot with the kingdom of heaven — even though you know that it involves taking up the cross of sacrificial love? Following Jesus means going where he's going — meaning to Calvary — but also beyond the grave to salvation ... already in this life, and above all in the kingdom of heaven in the life to come.