19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, A Reflection by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The gospel passage this Sunday, which contains a teaching on treasures in heaven and three parables on vigilance and faithfulness, can be summarized by the following line that we read in the text: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” The Jesuit biblical scholar Joseph A. Fitzmeyer says “this maxim has parallels in secular Greek literature, but none of them is so succinctly put as this.”

Gerald Cowen, in his beautiful elaboration of the significance of the heart in the Bible, speaks of the heart as “the center of the physical, emotional, mental, moral and spiritual life of humans.” According to him, “the conscience, for instance, is associated with the heart.” On the negative side, depravity is said to issue from the heart. In Matthew 15:19, Jesus speaks that out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. “In other words, defilement comes from within rather than from without.”

Cowen further notes that “because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual.” For example in Romans 2:15, St. Paul speaks of the work of the law as “written in their hearts,” and conscience is the proof of this. In some gospel parables, “the heart is the field where seed or the Word of God is sown. Finally, the heart is the dwelling place of God. God resides in the heart of the believer.

Jesus does not say in the Gospel, “Where your heart is, there will be your treasure also.” He says, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Jesus knows that if we want to know what is in people’s hearts, we first find out what is in their treasure boxes or what they consider as their treasures.” Considered as the seat of human yearning or longing, the heart is attracted and directed towards that which it considers its treasures.

Etymologically, treasure comes from the English term “thesaurus,” a word that refers to a “storehouse.” Literally, it means “a receptacle of valuables.” What one keeps, maintains, safeguards, protects and accumulates as his valuables are his treasures. Indeed, what we store is our treasure. Denis McBride is right in saying that if we want to know the condition of one’s heart, find out what one stores in his treasure box. Tell me what you consider as your greatest treasures and I will tell you about the condition of your heart.

Last Sunday, Jesus warned against storing treasures up that do not last. More concretely, he warned against greed and strongly reminded that one’s life does not consist of possessions. What is important is to be rich in what matters to God.

Biblical revelation, Christian spirituality and theology tell us that the heart’s proper and prime attraction must be God. The New Catechism of the Catholic Church starts by declaring that the longing for God is planted in the heart of every person. In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us “to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In the gospel today, Jesus says that the Father is giving us this treasure of the Kingdom of God, “the inexhaustible treasure in heaven than no thief can reach nor moth destroy.”

If we anchor the rest of the Gospel on this fundamental challenge of receiving and making the God and Kingdom of God as the greatest treasure of our hearts, we then find at least three important lessons on the basis of our gospel passage.

First, everything, including material possessions and even basic needs that we have, becomes relative to the absoluteness of God’s Kingdom. We seek God and His Kingdom first and above all else. If we truly believe that God’s Kingdom has already started with the coming of Jesus, and the present is oriented towards the completion of this Kingdom in Jesus’ return or second coming, we strive to cooperate with God’s grace to really make God the center of our lives. One of the results of this is that we become more trusting in the providence of God and we acquire a more non-clinging and non-accumulative attitude towards everything, including possessions.

The gospel passage last Sunday made it very clear, “One’s life does not consist of possessions” and thus, we must avoid greed in any forms. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and many other saints, everything is a gift from God and everything ultimately belongs to God. Obsessive and greedy appropriation and accumulation of goods are not traits of people who trust in God as their loving and benevolent Father. If God takes care of the sparrows, how much more he will take care of us.

Second, knowing that one’s greatest treasure is God’s Kingdom leads one to share what one has and possesses with others, especially with the poor. The relative and fleeting character of possessions makes one share with others and impels him to work for transformation of the world so that what truly reign in the world are the Kingdom values of love, peace, justice and equality. God the Father of all humans and of all creation has given the resources of the world to be shared by all. This experience of the Fatherhood of God and the absoluteness of his Kingdom makes us work for a new world order where no one is neglected, oppressed, abused and dehumanized.

Finally, because God and His Kingdom are our greatest treasure, the proper disposition in this world is that of a faithful and prudent servant and steward who is always ready to make an accounting to the Lord for the life and resources that He has given us and for the quality of lives that we have lived and the quality of persons that we have become. The gospel passage has a strong reminder on this: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” At the hour of our death and at the eschatological coming of Jesus at the end of time, an accounting has to be made. Blessed is the servant and steward who is faithful, prudent and wise for living well and for relating well with others, especially the poor and the weak, according to the Kingdom values of love, peace, justice and equality.

A faithful and prudent servant and steward is vigilant. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of the need for preparedness for the ultimate coming of the Lord as the Israelite people waited and prepared for their liberation from the slavery of Egypt.

A faithful and prudent servant and steward also possesses faith. The person who knows that his real treasure is God and His Kingdom will possess the faith exemplified by Abraham as recounted in the Letter to the Hebrews. Maryanne Williamson says that “the greatest treasures are those invisible to the eye but felt by the heart.” One can only apprehend these treasures by faith for “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

We find in St. Augustine of Hippo, the sinner turned saint, an embodiment of the heart’s search for what can truly satisfy it. In his life story, we find a succession of desperate searches for fulfillment: excessive pleasures, false religions, philosophy, dissipation and distractions—futilities that left him so weary of himself he could only cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” In the midst of this cry for divine help, the Scriptures showed him that he could be freed from sin and that he could start living a godly life. The transformation of St. Augustine began when he finally believed in and surrendered himself to God.

In his beautiful work entitled Confessions, considered one of the greatest autobiographical testimonies of God’s interaction with a soul that has found rest in its Creator, with a heart bursting with the reality of God, St. Augustine directly addresses the Lord. He declares: “Great are you, O Lord, and greatly to be praised, great is your power, and your wisdom is infinite.

In contrast to God, he asks, “What is man?” Yes, he finds the connection between God and man. In spite of sin, each person feels the longing to reach out to his Creator. Whys is this so? St. Augustine realizes that this itself is God’s doing: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you.”

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, philosopher and author declared: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator made known through Jesus.”

Our hearts know that nobody and nothing in this world can completely satisfy us. St. Poemen knew this very well when he said, “Give not your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” If we give our hearts to God, we give God everything and God becomes our All.

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,y
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections