These parables of the ‘treasure in the field’ and the ‘pearl of great price’ ring a bell in each of us because many people dream of striking it rich. The successes of casinos and state lotteries come from the hope people have that they might win and all their problems will be solved. We often read stories of what happened years later to lottery winners and realize that maybe it wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to them. If we satisfy all of a person’s material desires, emptiness remains because we are more than a body. We have a soul, consider a human life without friendship, love, purpose or faith and we can understand why our greatest need is spiritual. It’s only human to want to possess what we value. I heard a pastor, oftentimes when he preaches at infant baptisms he likes to put people through an imaginary exercise. He asks them, “If your house was on fire, and everyone was safe, including all the pets, and you had five minutes to rush into your home and take whatever you could carry, what would you take? Well some of the first answers are always: jewelry, money, and credit cards. But in a short while, the answers change—the family Bible, photo albums, pictures, and reminders of those we love, memories of the past. It’s when they realize that everything else can be replaced; that it’s about memories of relationships; the people who mean the most to us. That’s the real treasure we never want to let go of. And that’s what Jesus is saying—that the kingdom of heaven is such a treasure.
There is only one treasure that brings happiness and that treasure is Jesus. The man in the first parable in the Gospel today found the treasure (kingdom of heaven) and went off happy (Matt 13:44). If we’re not happy we still haven’t found Jesus or the kingdom of heaven. If you’re not happy, my advice is turn to Jesus and then you will find the happiness you seek. Do we have to set out on a journey to find this treasure and do we need a map? Yes, we do! The journey is the journey into our own hearts, and the map has been given us by Jesus himself.
In the first two parables in the Gospel today (Matt 13:44-46) the men sold everything they had to acquire either the treasure or the pearl. Searching for Jesus and the kingdom of heaven means we face choices and have to make decisions, sometimes hard decisions that we would prefer not to have to make. There will be passing treasures that in the short-term are tempting but don’t offer us the happiness we really want. In the first reading Solomon passed up on fleeting treasures in order to have God’s wisdom in order to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 3:5,7-12). There is the real treasure, Jesus, for whom we sometimes carry our cross in order to find Him, who is the treasure who gives us real happiness. By carrying our cross well we will discover a pearl inside us, and that pearl is Jesus.
A pearl is formed in an oyster which secretes mother-of-pearl to form its shell. When a foreign body, such as a grain of sand, enters the oyster, it is surrounded and cut off from the remainder of the oyster by mother-of-pearl building up around it forming a pearl. This is the way an oyster naturally defends itself. What began as a disaster for the oyster has, in fact, turned it into a most beautiful jewel. Sometimes it is like that for us too. What we thought was a disaster or cross turns out for our benefit.
Do we have to set out on a journey to find this treasure, this pearl, Jesus? How should we begin? By praying and receiving the sacraments frequently and getting to know our Bible. I believe that none of us is praying enough. That’s why there are so many problems. If we all prayed more I believe we would all be far happier, and many situations would work out much better. So let us pray more, and receive the sacraments more often, and get to know our Bible so that the pearl, Jesus, may grow within us, a treasure that won’t let us down. Then we can go off happy like the man in the parable. (Matt 13:44).
Fr. A. Francis HGN