Hidden treasure and a pearl of great price

first_img Share Tweet FaithLifestyleLocalNews Hidden treasure and a pearl of great price by: – July 25, 2011 Share Sharing is caring!center_img Share 49 Views   no discussions Photo credit: askgramps.orgJesus continues his teaching on the kingdom in today’s gospel. The parable, begun last week along one line (imagine a sower going out to sow, with the seed falling on different types of ground), goes along another line today (imagine a merchant finding buried treasure or a precious pearl).Before I explore today’s meaning, a word about parables themselves. Jesus, we know, did most of his teaching in parables. He used other forms at times, e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, but his preferred way was to use parables, i.e., teaching through certain kinds of stories.The stories are imaginary, as stories often are. They immediately take us away from everyday ‘reality,’ to another world. That’s the source of their appeal, of course – as all children know. You have only to say ‘Once upon a time,’ and a child is away from bed and bedroom to a different, more captivating world.Jesus was obviously convinced of the intrinsic power of stories. They taught in their indirect and powerful way, without being didactic. A parable is also an open-ended story. It is the listener who decides what it means. Jesus never tells you. The listener must see his or her own face in the story; they must feel themselves confronted by questions posed from within the parable itself. Jesus doesn’t do the confronting.That’s how parables ‘operate.’  Many people have the erroneous view that parables ‘have a point,’ something you can ‘take’ from them at the end. But this is not how stories work. Again, every child knows this. If, for instance, I start telling a child, “Once upon a time, a big giant lived in a forest in house made of the most aromatic biscuits. The animals in the forest were continually trying to sneak up at night and eat parts of the house. To cut a long story short, one day the giant…” The child would stop me immediately, and ask what kind of biscuits were they… Were they chocolate ship…Did the animals ever eat any…”  And so on. In other words, the child knows, better than most adults, that the point of a story is not something you subtract from it or something you get at the end; the point of a story is the story itself in all its details.Now to our parable.  A merchant stumbles one day upon buried treasure. What he finds without setting out to find is treasure that’s buried. Jesus’ listeners would have known from this detail that many people – in a time without safety deposit boxes – used to bury their valuables. If you came upon such a treasure, it could be the find of a lifetime. You would note where it was, map the coordinates in your brain, and come back later with some servants to dig it up.Again, he said, imagine a merchant who finds a precious pearl. Again Jesus’ listeners would have known that in terms of rank among jewels pearls were the best of the best. Their value corresponded to what diamonds mean to us. The merchant would be so happy with his discovery that he would sell everything to buy it.For Jesus the treasure or the pearl meant a possession so valuable that you would want to possess it at all cost. It represents what you most deeply desire and can make your own.Every human heart has certain hungers.  Everybody wants a nice home, great opportunities, good relationships, security, respect, and love. Everybody wants these things. They represent what enhances our lives and makes them worth living.It’s important to realize that the gospel never says or implies that we have to choose between God and all or any of this; as if everything was really dispensable in comparison with God. There is no ‘either/or’ here. God knows that God is not the only thing we need in life.  As the hymn put it, we should seek the Kingdom of God first and the rest shall be added unto us. Not seek only, but seek first…Sometimes, however, we see or read about people whose seeking first made them give themselves wholly to what comes first. Those people we call saints. It’s unfortunate that the standardized picture of a saint remains by and large a person with joined hands and upturned eyes, who hardly seems to need the earth for anything. The false picture has done enormous harm to the best in religion.Saints come in all sizes, colours, races and cultures. In their incredible variety, there is one constant. The anthropologist Joseph Campbell once wrote a famous book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. His thesis was that heroism displays an enormous variety – the hero has a thousand faces, but the story (and the question that consumes the hero) is always the same: ‘To what will I surrender my heart?  What will have my most complete allegiance?’ You can say the same thing of the saint. Sometimes possession will clash with other commitments or allegiances, and the result can be tragic. I think for example of St. Thomas More saying at the end of his life, to the great sadness and dismay of his family: “I remain the King’s loyal servant, but God’s first.’ On the other hand, there is often no clash whatever, just a matter of joyous surrender. I think here of the thirteen martyrs of Uganda, all under 25, the youngest only 13, joking and singing hymns  on their way to their place of execution.The consequences of choice may not be ours to control, but we are not confronted essentially with choosing, just with prioritizing. The Kingdom is a treasure, Jesus says, a treasure we should not seek only; just seek first…By: Father Henry Charles, Ph. dlast_img read more