Year A Ordinary 17
There is a poem called Pearl, written in the 14th century by an unknown author, and it is one of the greatest poems ever written in the English language. It’s truly amazing that the poet never signed his name to his masterpiece, in the same way it’s truly amazing that the builders of the great gothic cathedrals never signed their names to their masterpieces. Perhaps this is because the greatness of their art speaks for itself. It’s basically the exact opposite of what we do today, when every time we eat a sandwich we have to post it to instagram and every time we see a friend we have to take a selfie for facebook. We want our names out there, we want people to be jealous, to envy how amazing our lives are.
It’s all about what we find important. Where do we place the emphasis – is it on me or is it on God. Our Lord says,
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”
I wonder, do I value the Kingdom of Heaven to that degree? Am I willing to give up everything in order to serve God? In a way, it would be crazy not to! But yet, so many of us hold on to our reservations, our hidden sins, our worldly attachments that interfere with our spiritual life.
The kingdom of heaven is a treasure beyond compare, but pearls often have a spot, a flaw, an imperfection. And the pearly gates of heaven have a spot, too… entrance is only for the meek, the humble of heart, the child-like. It is for the poor, and the downtrodden, those anonymous people who God loves so very much even if they are often overlooked and ignored by others. Heaven isn’t for the proud, for those who build achievements in this world and sign their name to them as if those are what have eternal value. To enter heaven, we must leave everything behind – that can be a problem.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with that. I want to sin just one more time, indulge an unhealthy desire just one last time. Then I’ll quit forever, I promise, right? Look, I know how it goes, that we all confess the same sins in confession over and over until it’s utterly shameful and we’re sick of repeating it. Don’t let that get you down or cause you to quit. Never make peace with your vices, it’s only natural that leaving our sins behind is difficult, it can feel like a loss, and so it is an excruciatingly difficult process. But leave them behind we must.
The poem Pearl was written by a father whose daughter Margery (a name which means “Pearl”) has died at the age of 3. He is, of course, devastated, and part of his grief is writing this poem about how even the most saintly, innocent life is scarred by the effects of sin and death. He is a master at his craft, and his rhyme scheme and rhythm are perfect – except for one spot. In that single imperfection, we see how the poem itself in its very structure becomes a pearl with a single flaw. One lonely line stands on its own, reading, “Jesus on his faithful smiled.” And so the imperfection of man is woven into God’s redemptive power.
The writer of Pearl has not found a treasure, in fact, with the death of his daughter he believes that he has lost one. But he soon learns that the treasure was not his to possess as his daughter from heaven tells him with child-like wisdom, “I am wholly His.” Each life belongs to God. Your life is not your own. Mine is not my own. If we must lay down our lives in order to find the Kingdom of Heaven, it is a trade worth making. If in the course of your days, you must suffer a thousand small indignities for the sake of others, if love becomes a daily sacrifice for you – it’s worth it. A harsh word unsaid, a gossipy comment unmade, a selfish action denied, a temptation rejected, this is how we discover that the true treasure in life is not what we can take but what we can give, and what we can strive for.
In the story of salvation history there is a spot, a single gut-wrenching flaw, and that spot upon the pearl of history is the death of Jesus Christ as an innocent sacrifice. His death wasn’t just. See it from the right perspective, though, and understand that God has taken this hideous flaw in us, our propensity to rebel and sin, and he has folded it into his glory, he has redeemed it through his love and shown us how to freely choose to reject our vices. By doing so, we have been given the opportunity to leave behind the old way of thinking and seek a greater glory, one that shines all the brighter because of how difficult it is to leave sin behind.
To find this pearl, do whatever it takes. Seek that hidden, buried treasure that is the Kingdom of Heaven. It is at the heart of everything, and the very treasure of the human soul.
O Lord, may we be wholly thine