Homilies,  Year C

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 31 July 2022

How would we describe the most precious, the most valuable thing in our possession?  What would be the thing that we would not exchange for any amount of money or satisfaction?  In other words, what is of the greatest value for us? 

Years ago, there was a wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting.  Together they travelled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection.

The widowed man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector.  One winter though war broke out and the young man left to fight in battle.  Only after a few short weeks, his father received a note to say that his son was missing in action.  He has been killed whilst rushing to a fellow soldier as a medic.

Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas with much sorrow and anguish.  On Christmas morning, itself, he got a knock on the door.  When he opened the door he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand.  The soldier said, “I was a friend of your son.  I was the one he was rescuing when he died.  May I come inside?  I have something to show you.”

As the old man unwrapped the package, he discovered a portrait of his son.  Though it would never be considered as the work of a genius, the painting was nonetheless a striking portrait.  Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier and promised to hang the picture above the fireplace.

The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the round clamoured.  He told his neighbours it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

The following spring, the old man died.  The art world was in anticipation.  With the collector’s passing, and his only son dead, those paintings would be sold at auction.  According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift.

The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings.  The auction began with a painting not on any museum’s lists.  It was the painting of the man’s son.  The auctioneer asked for an opening bid.  The room was silent.  Minutes passed.  No one spoke.  From the back of the room came, “Who cares about that painting?  It’s just a picture of his son.  Let’s forget it and go on to the good stuff.”  But the auctioneer replied, “No we have to sell this one first.”

Then someone said, “Will you take ten dollars for the painting.  That is all I have.  I knew the boy and would like to have it.”  After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice, gone.”  The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over.  Stunned disbelief came across the room.

Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it’s over?  We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son.  What about all of these paintings?  There are millions of dollars of art here!  I demand that you explain!”  The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple.  According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son . . . gets it all.”

What constitutes treasure in our life?  And is the treasure in our life about that which builds and then decays or is our treasure about something much more lasting, much more eternal?  It is interesting that the more eternal our treasure, the more willing we are to share it because we know that the more we share it the more it abounds.  The less eternal our treasure is, the more unwilling we are to share it since we know if we give it away then it is gone forever and is difficult to replace.  Human love, spiritual love is eternal.  Justice and truth are eternal.  Peace is eternal.  The more we seek to cultivate them, the more we seek them, the more there is to discover and to share.  There is a quality of infinity about them.  Possessions, status, prestige are not so eternal.  They are finite and there is limited supply.  The more you have, the less I have and so the logic of jealousy and greed emerges.

Love, justice, truth, peace, all at the heart of the Kingdom of Jesus, come in simply ordinary limited ways, often shrouded in something simple like the portrait of the art collector’s son.  But when our hearts are set on them, like the friend of the old man in our story, we become rich indeed.

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