30 Jul 2017
“‘The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great value, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matt. 13:45-46)
In the name …
As you probably know, Sharon and I were in Scranton last weekend so that I could perform the wedding of a friend’s daughter. After the wedding, I was in the sacristy with Prime Bishop Mikovsky. At this point, he lets me know that I had just celebrated Mass using Bp. Hodur’s chalice. I held him by the shoulders and asked why he didn’t let me know before Mass started. His honest answer to me was: “You couldn’t handle it.” I laughed and told him he was probably right. If I had known that I was celebrating Mass with Bp. Hodur’s chalice in my hands, the same chalice he once held in his hands, I probably would have been too nervous. I would have lifted up the chalice for consecration and the wine would be sloshing all over the place because my hands would have been shaking. Value and worth are not always absolute. They often depend on an individual’s response. Hodur means an awful lot to me, but if he didn’t, then neither would the fact that it was his chalice.
Another example. I was at the doctor’s office this past week. I’m in the exam room waiting for him to show up and I’m reading a Time Magazine from earlier in the summer. There’s some ridiculous looking modern art painting that had sold recently for over 100 million dollars. I showed it to my doctor when he walked in the door and said I would rather have one of his kid’s paintings that was hanging on the wall than this thing. I asked who likes this stuff. Then my doctor tells me he went out to Boston to see a showing of this artist’s work. Value is definitely not absolute.
We had a tag sale here at the church. Someone had donated a painting. It looked nice enough, but we didn’t look close enough. It was a painting by the local artist Joanne Denahy. Someone recognized what it was. Paid our price and walked home with something of much greater value.
One last story: a well known interior decorator in Boston is offered the chance to purchase a marble mantelpiece. It’s expensive, but her eye catches something special about the piece. She pays the hefty price, but does some research and discovers that it was crafted by a famous artist, and now that mantelpiece is sitting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with her name on it. The mantelpiece was expensive and the seller knew it was special, but the buyer saw in it something of a greater, unseen value. This is not unlike this morning’s parable of the merchant looking to buy pearls. He’s scouring the market when his trained eye sees something exceptional in one particular pearl. He was probably planning to purchase several fine pearls that day for his business, but when he saw the one pearl he cashes out, he maxes out the credit card in today’s terms. He pays a great deal for the one pearl because he sees in that one pearl the exceptional. For as expensive as the pearl was he knew that he was still getting the better part of the deal. He saw in the pearl a greater value than anyone else had noticed.
Jesus uses this example as one story to help explain “The kingdom of heaven is like …” It may be important for us to think about the fact that Jesus doesn’t describe heaven itself. Even after His resurrection, Jesus does not spend any of His time describing the details of heaven. To me this means that what heaven is like is not a concern for us right now. Again, when we were in Scranton last week, we visited the cemetery. There are a lot of plots for us to say our prayers at. While over by the graves of Sharon’s mother and father, I always stop to look at two particular monuments. They’re beautiful. One shows two buddies fishing on a mountain lake, trees reaching right to the shore, two deer at the edge of the water and smoke coming from the chimney of the cabin. Another monument shows a man and woman walking hand in hand down a path towards a quiet sunset. I would imagine that both of these images represent the family’s hopes for what heaven is like. And while the hopes may not be off base, hopefully heaven is wonderfully peaceful and filled with the people we love, but the fact is we really have no idea what heaven is going to be like. The details are not for us – at least not yet.
Instead, in this morning’s parables, Jesus concentrates on the value a person places on heaven now. Does heaven mean enough to any one of us now that we would sacrifice other things of value for it? Will we sacrifice our time for heaven now? Will we work at being ready and worthy of heaven – now? In the two parables of the treasure buried in the field and especially the pearl of exceptional value, the finder sells all that he has to purchase them. In other words, heaven can’t only be a thought we rely on as death approaches. Heaven means making life-choices now. My favourite of this morning’s three Jesus stories is the story of the pearl because the buyer entered into an honest transaction with the seller. It wasn’t about finding hidden treasure and then burying it again. It wasn’t about hauling in a net full of fish. This one I simply don’t get. The good fish are thrown into a bucket. Why? So that they can be sold and eaten. The poor fish are thrown back into the water. Why? To live. I wouldn’t want to be the good fish; I’d want to be the poor one. But in the parable of the pearl, the buyer saw something of more value than the seller could see. He’s like that woman in Boston who now has her name next to her donation in the Museum of Fine Arts. Is Jesus asking us in this story how much heaven is worth to us, how much do we value it, and what are we willing to do for it - now?
I don’t know what heaven will be like, but I sure like to know it’s there. And if you’re at all like that, then now is the time to prepare for heaven. Let us be saintly now, which doesn’t mean living with a halo, it means living like a Christian, like Jesus would have us live, so that when the time comes we may all finally see what heaven is really like, and for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo