Sunday, July 30, 2017

The pearl of great price

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time year A:
Today in the gospel Jesus continues to speak to us in parables.  These are engaging stories which help us to see the truth of Christian life.  I like this image of the pearl of great price.  This super valuable pearl is what the merchant had been looking for his whole life.  This merchant sells everything he owns because the pearl is worth everything.  He decides it is much better to have this pearl than everything else he owns.  Pretty extreme if you think about it, but also quite beautiful.  The kingdom of God is more valuable and beautiful than everything we have and everything we own.  It’s worth trading everything.
When I was a kid, I loved baseball cards.  I really liked collecting the pictures, but also reading the backs of the cards.  The backs of the cards had the statistics for the players.  Remember, this was way before Google, so if you wanted to know player statistics it was cards and the newspaper. 
Somehow or another I came into possession of a Don Mattingly card that I really liked.  Not only did I like it, but it was worth like 8 whole dollars.  For a 10-year-old kid, this was big money.  This card was my prized possession.  My friend John had a much bigger card collection than me, and we used to trade some cards.  He really wanted the Don Mattingly.  So, he would make certain offers and I would turn them down.  Finally, he made me the offer I couldn’t refuse.  He laid out about 10 different cards, many of whom were some of my favorite players.  Each of these cards were worth 1 dollar, so I decided to make the deal.  10 one-dollar cards for 1 eight-dollar card.  Right away, I thought I had made out well.  But, you know what?  I regretted that trade every day after.  Obviously, I still haven’t gotten over it yet…  I ended up convinced that I had traded my favorite card for a bunch of rags.  Those 10 mediocre cards never replaced that one great card.
I hope this story strikes home.  This is what the image of the pearl is all about.  The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, is that valuable card, that pearl of great price.  It’s more amazing and wonderful than any of us could possibly imagine. 
Deep down each one of us is longing for this heaven.  We are all made for God’s love, we are made to be with God forever.  We all have this desire: can you feel it?  Yet, how often do we end up trading in that pearl of great price for much lesser things?  How often do we trade Don Mattingly for a bunch of mediocrity?
We all do this, I’m sure.  The first way is obvious right: our sins.  Every time we choose sinfulness, selfishness over love and giving, we are trading the pearl for a bunch of rags.  Sins do not satisfy us.  They do not fill that deep longing that we have.  By choosing to sin, we trade away our inheritance for a bunch of nothing.
But, even good things could get in the way of the kingdom.  Those 10 cards I got were all fine.  The possessions of the merchant were all fine.  But, these things are nothing compared to the great prize.  Even good things can cause us to be led astray.  Things like our careers, our ambitions, the desires and goals we have for others.  None of these are bad, but we still need to ask ourselves if they are taking us away from the kingdom of God, the great pearl.

My advice, start with some reflection on the pearl of great price.  Start by reflecting on the great mystery of the kingdom of heaven.  By loving God, by being united with Christ, we will live with God in happy bliss for all eternity.  Does this sound like something you want?  It might be hard to give up our sin, even to give up good things that might lead us astray.  It’s tough to embrace self-denial.  But, it is definitely worth every penny.  It’s not even close.  I’ve regretted trading away Don Mattingly all these years.  But, if we trade away the pearl of great price we will regret it for all eternity.  So don’t be afraid to let go of things in this life.  The kingdom of heaven is worth it.

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