HOMILY WEEK 17 03 – Year I
The Kingdom of Heaven: Priceless Transformation and Radical Choice
(Exodus 34:29-35; Ps 99; Mt 13:44-46)
The pearl is a very interesting analogy for life in the kingdom. Fred Sherrer, in his comment on this gospel, explains: “Unlike other precious stones, the pearl originates in a living thing, a speck of foreign matter that has found its way inside the shell. Instead of the stranger being rejected, it is wrapped in ‘swaddling clothes,’ nurtured and in the end, becomes precious beyond our wildest dreams.”
This is how our loving God deals with us. God accepts us as we are and believes in whom we can become. In sending Jesus his Son to us, God forgives us and longs to transform us into the likeness of Christ. In Jesus, God takes our sin and sinfulness, wraps it in forgiveness, compassion and healing, and if we are willing, transforms us into pearls of great price.
This process is what our Eastern Rite cousins call divinization. This theology holds that we are being transformed, little by little, into God’s likeness. Our faith is dynamic, alive and transformative. That is what St. Paul asserts in Romans 8:29-30: “For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. And those whom God predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
In his second letter to the Corinthians (3:18), Paul describes this theology of divinization in these words, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Today we would speak of this process in terms of a healing journey. We are all invited to be on a healing journey of faith, love and repentance. One way to assure this is happening in our lives would be to live thoroughly the Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. At Lac St Anne, the largest religious gathering of Indigenous people in North America, we are transforming a sobriety pledge into Step Seven candlelight healing prayer. That Step reads, “Humbly asked God to remove all our defects of character” to which I added, “and fill us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” with permission from the World Headquarters of A.A. in New York for my booklet Together We Heal. That is because I believe God heals us not so much by pulling negative attitudes and painful emotions out of us. Rather, God gently pushes them out by filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As participants come for prayer, holding a lighted candle and sharing their need for healing, they are making their pilgrimage a deeper transformative faith journey of forgiveness and inner healing.
That corresponds precisely with the two-fold mission of Jesus as the long-awaited for Messiah – to redeem and to sanctify, or more familiarly, to forgive and to heal. On the cross, Jesus forgave every sin we have ever committed or will commit – we just have to repent, open ourselves up to change, and come to him to receive that forgiveness.
But that is not all – he also wants to sanctify us, to heal us of our sinfulness, that which makes us sin – our painful emotions and our defects of character. Lucie Leduc, director of Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, shared with me a new insight: in one translation of Matthew 12:15, we are told “Jesus cured them all.” A cure is deeper than a healing – we can be healed of some manifestation of illness without the illness being cured. Jesus came to cure us, to renew us, to make of us an entirely new creation as St. Paul exclaims (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Along with the dimension of healing and transformation, the words of Jesus present us with a major life challenge – to make the kingdom of God a priority in our lives (the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price), and to practice wholeheartedly the spirituality of letting go (selling all we have) to ensure we are living in the kingdom.
That means letting go of any attachment to anything in our lives that does not line up with the will of God for us, and that might mean a huge sacrifice of some sin, emotion, attitude, habit, or behaviour. It means, as Richard Rohr likes to put it, “to die before we die,” which makes sense because when we do die, we cannot drag into heaven any bad habit, sin or unfinished business – it all has to go, and the sooner the better. That becomes an experience of purgatory for us now – the pain of entering heaven, and a letting go of the things of the earth.
The Eucharist is for us a source of joyful transformation. May our celebration inspire and empower us to go out to evangelize, share this good news with all we meet, and live in the kingdom of God.