Monday, September 19, 2005

The Treasure and the Pearl

I'd like to continue with the theme of the losses and gains of the spiritual life, and with Fr Maturin's book, Christian Self-Mastery. Today it will be in the context of two of Jesus' shortest parables, but which are among his best, in my opinion: the parable of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great price (Mt. 13:44-46).

Let's start with the pearl, for the seeking comes before the finding. Notice first, though, that in the parable of the treasure, it is clear that the Kingdom of Heaven is the hidden treasure ("the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure..."), and we can probably assume that the precious pearl also represents the priceless value of the Kingdom. But that's not exactly how Jesus presents it. He says: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls..." So the search itself is part of the mystery of the Kingdom. We have to have the proper dispositions, the willingness to make necessary sacrifices, not only in order to actually possess the pearl of great price, but even to undertake the quest at all.

If we truly seek, we will find. A merchant sought and found the priceless pearl. A man found a hidden treasure in a field (he couldn't have found it if he wasn't looking for it; buried treasures don't rise to the surface of their own accord). But in order to possess that treasure he had to buy the field. And the field cost precisely the value of everything he owned. So he sold everything to buy that field.

Fr Maturin gives us the spiritual principle and application: "To acquire anything...we must part with something we already possess, which we value less than that which we would acquire. If we do not think it is worth the price, we do not pay it. The law of gaining possession is the parting with what we value less for what we value more. A man cannot keep his money and at the same time get what he has his heart set on having. The question is which he values most... He who values this life more than the life beyond the grave will purchase its pleasures and enjoyments at the price of that life. He who believes that he was made for eternity, and that his home and happiness are in that other world, will be ready to sacrifice this world for it."

Both the man who found the treasure and the one who found the pearl sold all they had to acquire that which was of surpassing value. This is like the spiritual "dying" that is mortification or self-discipline, accepting a loss for the sake of a greater gain. Was the man who sold all he had grudging or bitter over the price he had to pay? No, for it says: "in his joy he goes and sells all he has..." He forgets his loss in the joy of his gain.

This is what Jesus offers us when He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. He is asking us to value less what perishes, and especially what leads us to sin, and to value more the hidden treasures of the spiritual life and of the Kingdom of Heaven. He asks us to let go of that to which we cling for security or pleasure, and to open ourselves to that which is promised but not yet fully possessed. For we, like the merchant, are on a search, but Christ guarantees -- by the Blood of his pierced Heart -- that if we don't give up the search we will find the precious pearl, the hidden treasure. Then, in our joy, we will easily relinquish the passing fancies of this temporary life.

Be willing to pay the price. If you give all, you will receive all -- and God's "all" is infinitely greater and more precious than the relatively insignificant "all" we are asked to sacrifice. Give up what is of less value for that which is of more. You will gain possession of the treasure, the pearl -- the Kingdom of Heaven.