We all look for bargains; the best bang for our buck. We wait for the summer sidewalk sales and close-outs. The ads tell us “This sale won’t last long. Act now!” So we go and search the racks. Two hours…nothing. Just when we’re ready to give up in disgust we try one more stack. Sure enough there’s a pair of shorts. Just the kind we’ve been looking for; in our favorite color, no less. Only one problem: They’re one size too small. If we buy them we’ll have to start that exercise program we’ve been putting off. Is it worth the risk? Is it worth the effort? Are they worth the price?
Today Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a hidden treasure and pearl of great price – sought after for many years, finally discovered, and bought at great cost and great risk. The once-in-a-lifetime treasure, the one-in-a-million pearl comes with a great price. The merchant, the collector must sell all.
A commentary that I read on this gospel provided this insight:
“The beautiful stories of the treasure in the field and the pearl merchant point to the fact (that) seeking the Kingdom of God and doing the will of the Father calls for total commitment. One does not simply add this pearl to a collection or simply purchase one more parcel of land. All must be sold. An absolute fresh start is to be made. The Gospel cuts into one’s life and one must decide. Jesus brings compassion and healing; but he also brings a call to responsibility that is not without its consequences.” (http://venerablematttalbotresourcecenter.blogspot.com/2008/07/seeking-kingdom.html)
Freedom isn’t free. The freedom of the Kingdom of God, the freedom that Jesus purchased for us with his own life isn’t free. Receiving freedom from selfish and addiction to our own self-will means trading in our “it’s-all-about-me” attitude with all its comfort for a new life: a life lived in concern for others. What would that look like practically speaking?
One evening in 1884 a twenty-eight years old Irishman, who was penniless and out of credit, waited outside a pub in the hope that somebody would invite him in for a drink. Born into a family where his dad and brothers were all heavy drinker, Matt Talbott had left school at the age of twelve and went to work in a wine merchant’s store. He very soon began “sampling their wares”, and was considered a hopeless alcoholic by age thirteen. Standing outside the bar, several friends had passed Matt without offering to treat him. Finally he went home in disgust and announced to his mother that he was going to “take the pledge” – give up the drink. He took the pledge for three months and at the end of the three months, he renewed for another six, then he took the pledge for life.
It was not easy to give up the bottle. The first seven years were a living hell with constant temptation to take just a little sip. Of those years Matt wrote: “Never be too hard on the man who can’t give up drink. It’s as hard to give up the drink as it is to raise the dead to life again. But both are possible and even easy for Our Lord. We have only to depend on him.” That is exactly what Matt did. Gradually the man who had once stolen a fiddle from a street musician and used it to buy a pint came to be known as a man who, though poor himself, was patient, kind and generous to those in need.
Matt sold it all to buy the pearl of great price. He set aside his alcoholic self-centeredness, entrusted himself to Jesus and Mary, and learned another way. Quite literally he stumbled into the Kingdom of God. For his humility, charity and perseverance he was given the title “venerable” in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.
What is it that you, that I, are clutching so tightly that it prevents us from having the treasure of life-to-the-full today? If we buried our relationship with the Lord after our last religion class in grade school or after we were confirmed; or if we have let it grow stale and weak; or if we have never really let ourselves get close to the Lord Jesus out of fear of what it might cost us…today is the day to look down at our feet. Today is holy ground and there is treasure buried in this field. Our Lord Jesus gave away the riches of heaven to come and live among us. Why? Because to him you and I are the pearl of great price. After 2000 years he hasn’t changed his mind.