After being nearly snowbound for two weeks, a Seattle man departed for his vacation in Miami Beach, where he was to meet his wife the next day at the conclusion of her business trip to Minneapolis. They were looking forward to pleasant weather and a nice time together. Unfortunately, there was some sort of mix up at the boarding gate, and the man was told he would have to wait for a later flight. He tried to appeal to a supervisor but was told the airline was not responsible for the problem and it would do no good to complain.

Upon arrival at the hotel the next day, he discovered that Miami Beach was having a heat wave, and its weather was almost as uncomfortably hot as Seattle's was cold. The desk clerk gave him a message that his wife would arrive as planned. He could hardly wait to get to the pool area to cool off, and quickly sent his wife an e-mail, but due to his haste, he made an error in the e-mail address.

His message therefore arrived at the home of an elderly preacher's wife whose even older husband had died only the day before.

When the grieving widow opened her e-mail, she took one look at the monitor, let out an anguished scream, and fell to the floor dead. Her family rushed to her room where they saw this message on the screen:

Dearest wife,
Departed yesterday as you know.
Just now got checked in.
Some confusion at the gate.
Appeal was denied.
Received confirmation of your arrival tomorrow.
Your loving husband.
P.S. Things are not as we thought. You're going to be surprised at how hot it is down here.

Old-time missioners used to have a field day with today's gospel, or at least with part of it. While they may have liked the passages that suggested that heaven was like a treasure in a field or like a pearl of great price, they told us that hell was a furnace of fire where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Some of those preachers seemed to know an awful lot about hell! It's as though they were travel writers who had visited the place several times just to warn us about what to expect when we got there. And do you remember how easy it was to get in? Many of us thought we had a first class ticket in our pocket most of the time.

Once, during a parish mission, where the visiting priest had given us an excruciatingly detailed description of hell, he told us, ‘You could be dipping your hand in the holy water font as you leave the Church tonight and be struck down dead and sent to hell for eternity!' At the end of that session my cousin stood by the holy water font and watched everyone else dip their hand in, saying as they did, ‘After you, after you.' She wasn't taking any chances!

All this is not to underestimate the reality of hell. If we believe in heaven and free will, it has to be logically true that hell exists and that, consistent with some people's free, knowing and serious rejection of God and of love all their lives, these choices will destine decisions made for, and by, them in the next world as well.

There are two major differences, however, between how we used to speak about heaven and hell and what we say now. Just as we know the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great price are metaphors for heaven, rich and wonderful ones at that, they remain images that enable us to grasp an unimaginable concept. So it is with hell. How can we imagine life without love and God? We have learnt that our guidebook regarding hell needs to be more circumscribed about what that destination or state of being holds. All we can confidently say is that hell is non-God.

The second change is that we are more careful about being so confident in regard to who is going there. Jesus tells us that God wants all humanity to be saved. We can't take that seriously and then have people slip into hell for a small infringement of the rules.

If we read today's Gospel in a different way it can be a commentary on what God has done for us. Humanity can be seen as the treasure in the field that God has sold everything to own. We are the pearl of great price that God has moved heaven and earth to possess and we are the fish caught up in the net of God's love.

Our God is the one who became one like us, in Jesus the Lord, so that we might know, love and serve him. That's what today's Gospel is all about.

Jesus reminds his disciples that in glimpsing the things of heaven they have to be like the master of a household. That's a rich image. In Jesus' day such a person would have provided protection, love, security and justice for all.

God has given us free will and treasures, both new and old, to help us protect each other, love each other, feel secure in the truth and act justly. But we need to know that the choices we make in regard to these things have implications for how we live now and in the life to come.

© Richard Leonard SJ.





We, the people of St Francis Xavier - St Clare parish, seek to live Christ-centred lives, celebrating God’s presence & our faith values through worship, outreach, service, justice & hospitality.

Read our Vision Statement


Next meeting: 7 August 2014

©Creative Ministry Resources Pty Ltd


1 Kgs 3:5.7-12
Solomon is granted an understanding heart.

Rom 8:28-30
God makes all things work for the good of those who love him.

Mt 13:44-52
Jesus describes the kingdom through images.



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