I’ve had some rotten things happen to me in my life. Some of them were my own fault; some were the fault of others; and some were really no one’s fault at all. Nevertheless, the result was the same: a terrible experience, a tragedy, a failure. This happens to everyone; we all know this to be true.
So, what do you think when you hear St. Paul tell us that “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”? We, who see all around us a world that seems to fall apart over and over again; we who feel the effects of sin and death in our lives and those around us; we who so often fail despite our best efforts? What is St. Paul talking about?
It’s important to remember that no verse of Scripture should be thrown out there all by itself. It all has a context. For St. Paul and this Letter to the Romans, he is describing the spiritual victory that Jesus has won, and that we who believe in Him also share. Even though we sin, even though we fail, even though rotten things might happen, Jesus is still the Victor over sin and death. And Paul knows this.
In fact, he even explains that it is through the “folly of the Cross” that this victory has been won. It didn’t make sense to his Jewish colleagues, and it certainly doesn’t make sense to his philosophically-minded Greek audience. Rather, it requires not only faith, but deep faith – faith that comes from a solid, lived relationship with a true Friend. Faith, besides which there is nothing more important.
That’s the sort of relationship that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. This faith is the “treasure buried in a field” and the “pearl of great price” that a person will sell “all that he has” in order to gain.
Faith is not some “Band-Aid” that is meant to be pulled out of a medicine cabinet when we think things are too tough. Faith is not a “one-time application.” Instead, faith is a response to a call. This call comes from our loving Father, to enter into a relationship of love and total trust. God has “called us according to His purpose,” as Paul writes – not my purpose. Therefore, when things don’t go my way and I complain and whine, that’s because I have not entrusted myself fully as Jesus asks me. Instead, I am trying to follow my own will, not God’s.
Each moment of our lives is only a part of a much greater picture. This is a story that we can only read one page at a time. God has written the whole thing, and we are invited to be part of the full story. That might mean some suffering and trials, but if we truly trust Him, we can say with Paul that we truly believe that God makes all things work for the good – even out of the worst tragedies.
But remember: this takes faith. Only faith and the faithful following of Jesus can produce the good fruit that God is looking for from us. Just because things are rotten now does not mean that God is not preparing us for even greater glory. And the sort of faith that I am talking about can only come from a real, personal relationship with Christ – not a distant, “Band-Aid” faith, not a faith that only surfaces when we feel like we need it, not a faith that is halfway.
The first disciples were all-in on their faith; they sought Jesus passionately and when they found Him, they gave up all they had to follow Him. When He returned to the Father and commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations,” they went wherever it was necessary to go – even to the heart of the empire, as Peter and Paul did. Many died for Him; all of them lived for Him.
This is our call now. Jesus is inviting us into the deep, joyful faith that led the merchant to sell all he had to purchase the pearl. Now, Christ offers us the fruits of our relationship with Him: eternal life, spiritual growth, salvation, a new generation of evangelists and missionary disciples, vocations! – all coming from our families and our parishes!
This is the treasure beyond value that we are offered today. The fruits of your faith await you. But we must first invest in that field now.