Jesus said to the crowds: â€˜The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
â€˜Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Last Saturday, it was a great joy for me to welcome some friends to the convent for afternoon tea. They brought their three small children with them, and while the adults sat down to tea, the children wasted no time in beginning a game of hide and seek in the rather large and unusual environment of Sr Roseâ€™s garden!
What is it that children love about the game hide and seek? My bet is that part of it is the thrill of being found. And being found is vital to a childâ€™s emotional experience of hide and seek played well. The English paediatrician D.W. Winnicott perceived that with hide and seek, â€œit is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found.â€ But why is that? It is because being sought and found gives the child the feeling of being wanted, recognised, and loved. We pursue the things that are valuable to us. With the three children that came to visit, their dad did at regular points go and seek out his hidden children, bringing them back into our sight and letting the game begin all over again. They were found, and their joy and reassurance filled the convent with peels of laughter. This is how it should be.
Too many of us do not experience our lives going according to plan in the same way. How many broken hearts does the world contain of those who were just let go, not sought, not found? How many fathers did not come to look for their children but instead walked away? How many men do not continue to pursue the woman they love, before marriage or after? How many friends did not return calls, invitations, attempts at companionship and intimacy?
This brings us to todayâ€™s Gospel. Today we hear the story of the hidden treasure and hidden pearl. Amid the pain and disappointment of our own experiences of not being sought or found, there is good news: we have a Father in Heaven who is seeking us, constantly, relentlessly, individually, because we are a treasure in His kingdom. The Father gave everything â€“ He gave His only Son, fully emptied â€“ to purchase every single one of us, and all that we are. God purchases us, we are not in a transactional relationship with Him. It is us who are the pearl of great price. It is us who are the treasure hidden in the field. Are you surprised by that, by your own great worth? Pearls, like any other created thing â€“ are held in esteem because somebody decided they were worth esteeming. Regardless of our own estimation, God tells us that we at are worth it.
It is one thing to believe in our worth as a statement of faith or as an intellectual assent. But our actions reveal our true beliefs, and what do they say? Think about all the ways in which we bury ourselves away, under dirt and clay. We can bury ourselves in constant distraction, addiction, sin or underdevelopment â€“ think here of the Parable of the Talents in which the steward hides his treasure rather than multiplies it. We do this because of our unbelief, in God and in ourselves. All these things are less than God and less than we are meant to be. But the Father will not stop seeking us until we are total and transfigured by grace.
It is easy to look at a ready-made pearl and admire its beauty and delicacy. But weâ€™re looking at the finished product: let us remind ourselves instead of the process of pearl-making (and for this I am grateful to the website HowStuffWorks.com for illuminating me!).
While most of the precious stones, metals and jewels we use are extracted from the earth, what makes pearls different is that their precious contents come from a living creature â€“ an oyster or clam or mussel. The formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritateÂ¬s the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The manÂ¬tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.
Why did Jesus use the image of a pearl and not another precious material? Perhaps because its own process resembles our own path to maturation. We are like the oyster, and the Gospel is like the foreign substance that gets under our skin: the Gospel has parts that is foreign to all of us â€“ it proposes a different way of living, seeing, being from the natural inclinations of our fallen human nature alone. But the Lord commands us to welcome to stranger among us, and that must include Him and His word too; they must be received with hospitality of heart.
Instead, how many times do we find ourselves irritated by the Gospel, by the wood of the cross which is our splinter? And in how many ways do we try to protect ourselves from its consequences? One of the major barriers to the fruition of the Gospel is our own psychological defence mechanisms such as denial, rationalisation and intellectualisation which keeps us from the full force of Godâ€™s word. Yet God takes all of this â€“ our defences, our foreign ways â€“ and uses them to cultivate precious gems.
Thereâ€™s no knowing whether an oyster has a pearl inside or not â€“ it is hidden and only by opening up the shell will we find out. Perhaps this is why the Lord commands us not to judge others â€“ who knows what secret gems are hidden in the inner depths of a person? It is the Lord alone who searches the heart. Perhaps we only see or feel the splinters and the irritants. We should consider that natural pearls are more prone to imperfections than cultured ones, but natural pearls are also more highly prized because of their rare beauty. Only God is perfect; He wants us as we are, in our full humanness and He will use all things for our good.
Returning to our game of hide and seek, itâ€™s also worth remembering that one of the other reasons that children love this game is because it invites reciprocal interaction â€“ in the same way as God gives everything to purchase us, let us respond in kind by giving God our all, by making Him our Pearl of Great Price.
Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.