Thought for the week - 30 July
On the face of it, this morning we hear about the reception of ‘stuff’- Solomon is offered ‘stuff’ and chooses Wisdom above all else – but it is still a gift that is bestowed upon him. The merchant gets rid of ‘stuff’ and buys one small thing, in much the same way as a costume jeweller might sell all his paste stones when he sees one real diamond – quality is evident even to those who deal in the alternatives. The fishermen get a catch, the merchant gets a pearl, the baker gets a loaf and the birds of the air get a tree to nest in. Everyone is a winner, as they say. The point though that we are to infer from these teachings is that not only is the Kingdom of Heaven like those who get the desired outcome, it is like those who discern, who use their skill and labour to get the desired outcome. The Kingdom of Heaven is not like someone who sits around doing nothing, or like someone who cannot be bothered to knead their dough, or like a merchant who does not take a risk. The Kingdom of Heaven is calling us to work, and the Kingdom of Heaven is calling us to use our minds and our hands to seek wisdom. The meaning of the pearl might have been obvious even to Jesus’ disciples, who often got things wrong. Job had said that the price of wisdom was beyond pearls. This parable is about the discovery of the most precious wisdom of all, the wisdom of Jesus that leads us to God.
How do you play Monopoly? Do you try and stay in as long as possible? Do you try and keep hold of lots of cash? Or do you do what I do and mortgage everything and keep almost no cash in order to own as many streets as possible, knowing that they become far more useful later on? It’s an all or nothing gambit, but one that often works. Now, it’s only a game, and if I were doing it with real money I’d be a little more careful, so maybe the Merchant’s reaction is not completely wise, selling everything seems a little foolish, but that point of potential foolishness is what Jesus uses to make His point – His wisdom, the knowledge of the love of God, is beyond the price of pearls and is actually worth more than everything we have. We cannot buy it as the merchant does, but if we have to jettison everything that we previously valued, like our self-image, our pride, our sense of importance – in order to gain it, then we should go ahead and do just that, getting rid of who we thought we were in order to be part of Him is an exercise that takes a lifetime, but gains for us eternal life. The merchant may seem foolish – but the wisdom of God does appear foolish in the eyes of the world, and it demands the greatest commitment – everything we have once and for all for our whole lives.
Can we do that? Is it actually possible and can I even stand here and say that we ought to do it when you all know that I have boxes of cigars at home that I have no intention of getting rid of, and which I would be hard pressed to sell in order to acquire wisdom. But these things, our ‘stuff’ gives us stability in a life that maybe does not have the stability and sense of purpose it once had. Who can work in the same company all their life, who is not worried about AI taking over some of their work, who is not worried about war and energy costs? Certainty and stability are in short supply now, and the ‘stuff’ we have helps to cushion us from that terrifying possibility of being, actually, alone and without anything. Maybe the relentless barrage of choice that we are offered now has been exposed for the lack of choice it really is – there is no guarantee of freedom or quality of life or equality with choosing exactly how we want our coffee made – what we actually want is to enjoy that which is made for us out of love and fraternity, not to witness the awful sight of someone losing their cool because they have the wrong milk – a sticking plaster over a chasm of fear and loneliness that threatens to engulf us if we feel our choice is being removed. Easier to scream at someone than to accept that our system is broken. Many people in my old home in London used to find it very hard to keep their temper because they had no autonomy, no decision-making ability in their jobs or addictions and so lashed out at each other rather than at the system that enslaved them.
So how do we exercise our choice to buy the pearl of great value – to choose to jettison something of ourselves in order to take on more of Christ and His wisdom? Well, for each of us individually we already know the answer, we maybe just don’t want to do it, but take heart, it can be a lifelong process, and it’s a countercultural one, to hold the life of Christ that puts others first and relies on us supporting each other. It can begin with rejecting the false options offered by the culture of deceit that we life among, and choosing divine grace and the Christian commitment that makes us happy and free that lasts forever and can never be lost. We can underline in our minds and our hearts the choice we made to seek the pearl of wisdom with everything we have – our hearts, our minds, our intellect, our labour – with all we are and what we may in the future become – and to rejoice in that which we gain, because in a world of lies and deception, we will possess the things that truly have value and last – faith, hope and love.
And may God, who has begun this good work within us by grace of our baptism, bring it to completion.