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Wisdom's Worth

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Simon Gaine preaches on the parable of the pearl of great price.

Some of Jesus' parables tell us exactly how much his wisdom is worth and what it costs, what it costs us. He tells of a merchant looking for fine pearls. The meaning of the pearl might have been obvious even to Jesus' disciples, who often got things wrong. Job had said that the price of wisdom was beyond pearls. This parable is about the discovery of the most precious wisdom of all, the wisdom of Jesus that leads us to God.

Now the merchant's reaction might not be at all what a real merchant would have done: selling everything he owned to obtain this one pearl. That seems a little ridiculous, but it's the ridiculous detail in Jesus' story that drives the point home: Christ's wisdom is beyond the price of pearls and it is worth more than everything you have. The merchant may seem foolish - but the wisdom of God does appear foolish in the eyes of the world, and it demands the greatest commitment - everything we have once and for all for our whole lives.

But can we be comfortable with that? Such a commitment of a whole life now – of an unknown future, leaving nothing back - complete self-giving - is that even possible for us? A lot of life today is short-term, not long-term, or at least that's how we have come to find our world. We know that commitments in general no longer seem to be the lifelong commitments they once were – people make a commitment but then move on for one reason or another to something else. All of this can affect the way we see the whole of life.

Our lives simply no longer seem to have the unity and stability they perhaps once had. Even when economic times were better than they are today, just envisioning one career for the whole of working life had become more difficult for young people. People seem less able to grasp their whole lives ahead of them as having a kind of unity, as being a single continuing story of a single life. Their perceptions can also sometimes be shaped by an idea of the endless possibilities of continually reinventing yourself.

At the bottom of much of this lies the modern obsession with choice, the idea that choice somehow guarantees freedom and quality of life. But while career changes and new directions are often liberating, to make having choices so central to our idea of the good life is surely more double-edged. Along with making freedom of choice so central, there often goes unease about commitment, because if you make a commitment you limit your options. Making a committed choice seems to lessen your freedom, and sometimes people experience a tendency to put off the key decisions and commitments that somehow make our identities. We sometimes just like to keep our options open.

So there's the crucial question: is it possible in a world like this, even to commit oneself to following Christ as a baptised Christian? Do we think of this commitment as opening us up to the fulfillment of our lives, or as just another way of limiting our options? People can be surprised at the idea that you might commit yourself once and for all just to being at Mass every Sunday for the rest of your life. It might seem the more obvious thing to make a separate decision whether to go to Mass each Sunday instead, keeping your options open.

So does obsession with choice and keeping options open prevent us from selling everything we have and obtaining the pearl? Does the pearl cost us more in today's world than it did in the past? Though it may be difficult, divine grace means commitment is never impossible, and our human nature still makes us need it. In reality, only Christian commitment can give our lives the unity and stability they need by making them part of God's one story. Only Christian commitment can fully open up for us the fulfillment that truly makes us happy and free, a heavenly happiness and freedom that last forever and can never be lost.

So let us affirm our choice of this pearl once and for all, a choice made with everything we have, with all we are, and all we will be. And may God who has begun this work in us bring it by his grace to its completion.

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Readings

1 Kings 3:5,7-12|Romans 8:28-30|Matthew 13:44-52

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