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Sunday 17, Year A: Jesus, the Pearl of Great Price

“My husband worked hard all his life to provide for his family and he has now given his life to save our daughter.” These are the words of Emma Jane Pearson, wife of Simon Pearson, who drowned in Italy barely ten days ago as he saved his 11-year old daughter from the same fate.

This heroic action tells us that some things are worth everything and therefore cost everything. The news is filled with stories of spurned lovers or spouses who lament that they had given up everything for the one who has now abandoned them. In some ways, there is a deep-seated need in the human being to find that person, or even that cause, which will demand not less than everything. For, in surrendering everything, even your very self, you paradoxically find yourself. The surrender gives ultimate meaning to who you are, to your life. It is the discovery and realization of your destiny.

That characteristic of our humanity is what Jesus is appealing to in the parables of the hidden treasure and pearl of great price. In both parables, the person involved is searching for the ultimate prize. When they find it, they “sell everything they own” in order to have it. Notice that Jesus uses the word “sell.” They don’t throw everything away, but use everything they have to gain the capital needed for their prize. Notice also, of course, that Jesus speaks of “everything”, not just a percentage. For Simon Pearson, there was no measure in what he was prepared to give to save the precious pearl of his little daughter. She cost not less than everything and that was exactly what he was prepared to give.

In the parables, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to the man who finds the treasure, and the merchant the pearl. As I was saying last week, the Kingdom of Heaven does not mean here the “end-game”, heaven understood as the place we hope to be at the end of time. No, it is the Kingdom of Heaven at work in us now. It is the process of finding our way to God. The two men in the parables don’t find their prize overnight. They have to look for it, and when they spot it, they then have to go and sell everything. It takes time and effort. It also takes determination and perseverance. It likewise presupposes that they have an ultimate goal, a purpose, one that is worth literally everything. Their life is not aimless and hapless.

So, what do the treasure and the pearl represent? Well, if they are worth sacrificing everything for, just like Mr Pearson gave up his life for his daughter, then they must represent something at least as valuable as the men themselves who make the sacrifice. But, in fact, in the mind of Jesus they represent something much more. If we take another text from the Gospel, we find the answer: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus himself is the treasure and the pearl. St. Paul puts it this way: “whatever was an asset to me, I count as loss for the sake of Christ.” Jesus, of course, is the supreme treasure because of who He is and what He has done for us. That said, you would actually think it was the other way round. For was it not first Jesus who gave up everything He had for our sake? St. Paul puts it this way, “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself and became man … He was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a Cross” so that we might be delivered from sin and death.

So, you could say that before the parables apply to us, they already applied to Jesus. He was the man looking for the treasure that we are, hidden in the field of the earth, covered in the dirt of sin and cut off from the light of God. He was first the merchant in search of the pearl of great price which we are, and look what it cost Him to buy us! He was the one first to “sell everything he owned”, leaving the glory of the Father to come and search for us, to woo and win us back.

All this leaves us with a difficult question. Is the person of Jesus truly my pearl of great price, my treasure hidden in the field of my deepest heart? Does my life show signs that I am selling anything I own, never mind everything, in order to find Him more fully, more deeply, more personally? Mr Pearson gave his life for his daughter. If it came to it, would I be prepared to give my life for Christ? Of course, I should not really say “if it came to it”, because, in fact, it will come to it. On the day I die, my deepest desire should be that my death be a willing gift of my whole self to the One who died for me on the Cross, not the catastrophic collapse of my ephemeral personal plans.

These are not just pious platitudes. These parables are like a shock to the system because they face us with the fundamental reason for our existence. They are a gift to shake us from the delusion which life today can cause in us, drugging us into thinking that our own personal plans and decisions for our life are enough. But they are not enough. We cannot pretend that we are our own origin or destiny. If our faith is genuine, we need to be aware and committed to the truth that Jesus is our origin and our destiny. Therefore, our lives are ultimately about making plans and choices for Him. We simply cannot create a parallel world, unless we want a rude awakening. And Christ certainly does not want that for us. He wants a willing and wise heart that works its way through life, gradually becoming readier for the final and liberating encounter with Him. Living for Christ is not an option, for, no matter what people think, there is no real alternative. We owe it to ourselves, to our families and to our world to focus all we are and have on the beloved person of Jesus Christ. That is what baptism means. That is what faith means. That is what witness means.

Every morning, ask yourself, what can I do for Jesus today? Most of the time, the answer will be to fulfil the duties of your state in life as well as you can, with some time, even a few minutes, for prayer. The point is to live your day for Christ, aware of Him, longing for Him. And every evening, ask yourself, what have I done for Jesus today? Make your answer honest and simple. If you have done wrong, just ask His mercy. If you have sought Him, give Him thanks. You are a Christian! Don’t live your life as if Christ’s truth and merciful love made no difference. Instead, like the men in the parables, search and sell and buy, or rather, keep searching and keep selling until you can buy the One who already bought you at the cost of His Precious Blood!