A Pair of Parables

pearl of great priceCROP

July 24, 2011

Matthew 13: 44-52

Every parable has multiple meanings. And when you put two parables together, even more insights emerge. This is what our liturgy does for us today. In our gospel we have two small parables: the parable of the treasure hidden in the field and the parable of the pearl of great price.

In both parables a person finds something of immense value: a cache of gold that was buried in the field or a pearl that is so exquisite that it puts all other pearls to shame. Clearly in Jesus’ preaching the treasure and the pearl stand for that which is most important, that which could bring us the most joy. Ultimately they stand for our salvation, for our relationship with God. So these two parables are a way of showing us how we find our heart’s desire. Clearly the characters in the parable know this. When they find what is most important, they both sell everything that they have in order to possess it.

Recognizing the similarity of the parables allows us to discover a truth in their differences. In these parables each of the characters finds that which is most important in a different way. The merchant finds the pearl of great price by constant effort.  The parable tells us the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. On the other hand, the man finds the treasure in the field by chance. He is not looking for it. He just comes across it in the course of his work. So when you put these two parables together, they tell us that sometimes we find the kingdom of God by looking for it and other times it comes to us even when we are not looking for it. Sometimes we find our heart’s desire because we are searching for it, and other times we simply stumble upon it.

Does this not match our experience? How have we found the most important things in our lives? How do people find a spouse, someone with whom to share their life? Well, some people do it by constant effort, by going on on-line dating services, by talking to friends, by going out to the appropriate social mixers. Such people sometimes find the person they are looking for. But other people have a chance conversation at a party, and the rest is history.

How do couples who are having difficulty conceiving give birth to a child? Some use every possible medical advance to increase fertility. Sometimes it works and they are successful. But I cannot tell you how many times I have talked to a couple who have tried everything without success and finally have resigned themselves to the fact that nothing is going to work. And then it does.

How do we draw closer to God? Sometimes we do it by saying our prayers, by reading the bible, by serving the poor. Such efforts allow us to feel God’s closeness. But other times we cannot pray. We feel that God is absent. Perhaps we are even angry at God or doubt God’s existence. And then there comes a call from a close friend or a particularly beautiful sunset, and suddenly we know God is with us.

These two little parables of the kingdom relativize our approach to salvation. They remind us that obtaining the most important things in life is not a process over which we have control. It is a process over which God has control. And God is not bound to use our wisdom or our efforts. Now, should we go for what is the most important thing? Should we seek our heart’s desire? By all means—with all of our energy and strength. If we try sincerely, sometimes like the merchant searching for fine pearls, we will find it. But on those days when our energy runs out, on those days when our searching seems futile, on those days when we can not even think of another thing we can try, the gospel reminds us not to give up hope. God still intends to save us. God still intends to give us our heart’s desire. And it is possible to stumble on the most important things, like finding a treasure hidden in a field.

Therefore, we should live with confidence. God is in charge. Whether we are looking for God or not, God is looking for us. And God is always successful.

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