For the past three Sundays, we have focused on the Parables of the Kingdom, with Jesus using several stories drawn primarily from the agricultural setting to illustrate the eternal value of the kingdom and the urgency to attain it. The soil that enabled the seed sown to grow and yield fruit denotes radical openness to the word of God. The wheat among weeds warns that evil may try to suffocate the good, but through perseverance goodness triumphs unscathed. The mustard seed, the yeast that leavened the dough urge a cultivation of deep faith and transforming love, which though intangible, would change life with their ubiquitous presence.
In what appears like a crescendo of parabolic teachings, Jesus employs three more parables, namely, treasure hidden in a field, finest pearls, and fish of all kinds to illustrate what great good the kingdom portends for the seeker. The hidden treasure and the finest pearl make a pitch for the kingdom as the supreme good, which we call in Latin “Summum bonum.” Thinking of the summum bonum as the best good there is or that one can have is only passable. The “summum bonum” is best described as that which contains in itself all the other desirable goods. It is the ultimate good bringing in its train all other goods.
Does that sound abstract or hard to understand? Then let’s use some illustration. An illustration from a village setting would help to explain the idea of the summum bonum. One of the chores that village kids are often excited to carry out, especially around evening, is to round up a mother hen with her chicks. Because they’re cute and small, kids usually start by chasing after the chickens, one after another. As they struggle to catch even a chick, they fall over so many times. But it’s not the smart maneuvers of the little chickens that pose the greatest problem for kids trying to catch them, it’s rather the ferocious attack of the mother hen who comes in defense of her brood with beak and claws. Many children, including me, would have nightmares of the attack of the mother hen. Mothers, however, know how best to round up the mother hen with her brood. With a large basket in hand, mothers lure the mother hen with some treat and then cover it with the basket. With the mother hen chucking inside the basket, all the chickens would gather around the basket where their mother is trapped. Once the basket is raised a little, all the chickens would rush into it, to be with their mother (Munachi).
The mother hen is like the summum bonum that attracted all the chickens. It’s like Solomon in today’s first reading asking for wisdom (understanding). He knew that wisdom will attract every other good needed and desired, including fame, security, prosperity, long life and happiness. A personal question we must answer is: Among all the things I desire in life, which are the chickens and which is the mother hen? We can trip and fall as we go all out in pursuit of chickens like financial security, the pleasures of life, career and educational advancement, windfall from court settlements, power, success, etc. But we need some good sense to aim for the mother hen. That mother hen that attracted the chickens is what Jesus calls the kingdom of God, which, when we gain it first, all other things will be added unto us—“Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice; and all these things shall be added to you as well” (Mtt 6:33). It is that treasure which when found would precipitate liquidating our past, sacrificing other possessions, in order to carry off by any available means this exclusive investment. When investing in the kingdom, we should do it in such a way that there is no turning back. Its risk is total should the venture fail but there is a feeling of contentment that comes with knowing that the value has been appraised as priceless. Whether we stumbled over this gift as cradle Catholics (aka, the man who found the treasure and hid it again) or sought and found it like an RCIA-merchant searching for fine pearls, once found and appraised by Jesus, we won’t mind letting folly take over and throwing caution to the wind, because the supreme treasure of the kingdom eclipses other things, which lose their savor and importance.