John Steinbeck wrote a novel entitled “The Pearl” in which a poor family in Mexico has a child who was bitten by a scorpion. Without proper treatment the child would die, and the family lacked the funds to pay for the medical care. The father of the child goes out to shore to seek for a pearl in order to pay for his child’s medical care, and in that search he comes upon a rare pearl of great price. Thinking that this pearl could lift them out of their poverty, he goes to various pearl merchants seeking the highest price. The pearl merchants, however, are in collusion with one another, and are deliberately driving the price low.
Realizing this injustice is being done to him, the father decides to trek to Mexico City in order to sell the pearl there, taking with him his wife and child. The pearl merchants pursue them, and in the chase the little child is killed by the pearl merchants. Devastated, the parents return to their village and the father throws the pearl into the sea.
The point of the novel is similar to the readings for this Sunday. What is the pearl of great price in our lives? The father realizes that it is his child, and not the pearl itself, that is the real pearl. In the first reading today, God asks Solomon to request the pearl of his life, and Solomon chose rightly: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” At our baptism when we are anointed as a kingly people God asks each one of us through His Church to make a similar request. Like Solomon, we need a similar wisdom to govern our own lives and to assist in guiding the lives of others with this gift of rightly distinguishing right from wrong.
It is at baptism that God first calls us to Himself, and we might often wonder for what we are called to be. Paul answers that question for us in the second reading. He reminds us that we are called “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Whenever we want to know what is right and wrong in our lives, we go to Jesus and see in His life and message what it is we ought to do in our mission. What was the great pearl in Jesus’ life? It was to do the will of His Father, something for which he prayed daily. If we seek the pearl of great price and desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus, this too must be our goal – to do the will of God and seek it each day.
Very often the images Jesus gives for the kingdom of God are passive, i.e. they are images of gifts freely given by God for us. Today, however, Jesus shows us the other side of the kingdom – that it is something for which we must actively seek in our lives. The kingdom is a great treasure, a pearl of great price for which we desire and strive towards. And yet we realize that the images of the kingdom are not exact analogies. We often desire and love riches for what they can bring us; that is, they are often a means to another end. The kingdom of God, however, is not a means to an end. The kingdom is the end for which we strive. We cannot use it for any other purpose; it is not a means to some other goal. The kingdom is the end and goal of our lives.
Where is this pearl, this kingdom, located? Jesus has told us that it is in our midst. It is not some far distant place well removed from our daily lives. The kingdom exists already in our midst, within each one of us. If we are temples of the Holy Spirit as we believe, then God dwells among us and the kingdom is here both in our individual lives and in our communal lives as the People of God. We often cling to very important things that help us in our relationship to God and in coming to realize the kingdom, but Jesus reminds us that only one thing is necessary. Everything was taken away from Jesus – all earthly helps and consolations – and yet He showed us through His death and resurrection the one thing necessary: God alone.
When trials and struggles come to our lives as they come to every life, they are a reminder that one thing alone is necessary: God is the pearl of great price and nothing else. It is a lesson we often do not want to hear, for we are attached to many things in our lives. As we strive for this pearl, for God alone, we come together to pray: “God our Father, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the splendor of creation, in the beauty of human life. Touched by your hand our world is holy. Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us, to share your blessings with our brothers and sisters, and to experience the joy of life in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”