Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My friends in Christ, today’s Gospel text from Saint Matthew features the famous parable of the “pearl of great price.” What is the pearl of great price? The German philosopher of the turn of the 18th Century, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, might define the pearl of great price as “the best of all possible worlds.” The 11th Century bishop and Doctor of the Church, Saint Anselm of Canterbury, might define the pearl of great price as “that which nothing greater can be conceived.” What is the pearl of great price? It is what commands our highest allegiance and in which we perceive the very greatest value. And for each of us subjectively, the pearl of great price truly depends on the person, for there is no real pearl of great price except what I deem of greatest value to me or what you deem to be of greatest value to you. For Captain Ahab, it was killing the white whale; for Gollum, it was the One Ring; for Sam Spade, it was the Maltese Falcon…. And for each of us…. For what are we willing to give up everything? For what are we willing even to die? Now, in very truth, there is, in fact, a real pearl of great price, and that is God. Objectively-speaking, regardless of our subjective wants and desires in life, God is the pearl of great price. And in response to that, all of us gathered here sagely nod our heads and say, “of course.” Of course Jesus is our pearl of great price! Of course that is so! Nothing more need be said, amen. But here is the real shocker: I stand here before you and I make the argument that all of us, every single last one of us – myself definitely included…all of us here have failed as yet to obtain that pearl of great price. Why do I say this? How do I know this to be true? I say it, and sadly it is true, because none of us have sold all that we have in order to buy that pearl. Not a single one of us has given up absolutely everything…for Jesus. What keeps us from Jesus Christ? What holds us back from the holy greatness of sainthood itself, for which each of us without exception was made, and to which each of us without exception is called? What are the trappings of mediocrity and malaise that prevent us from becoming just totally and awesomely…awesome? For me, the answer is simple and obvious: comfort. Comfort holds me back.
Greatness is found in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ with reckless abandon…but I would rather just preach the quote-unquote “safe stuff.” Greatness is found in fasting, thus to force my bodily appetites into holy submission…but I would rather just order some pizza, kick my feet up, and watch some mindless sitcom. Greatness is found in being joyful and unafraid in sharing my love for God and the Church, even with complete strangers (and yes – even with my family!), in the quiet hope of winning even just one soul for Christ and the Kingdom…but I would rather just stick with the empty, tried-and-tired pious platitudes chirped at the friendly parishioners whom I already know, hiding all the while with my warm-fuzzy blanket in that familiar safe-space of “you are in my thoughts and prayers.” Greatness is found in being a saint…but m’eh! I would rather just be comfortable…. And that is the problem. The world has a problem. There is something wrong with the world – something wretchedly and horribly wrong – and it is this: comfort! What is wrong with the world? In the immortal words of G.K. Chesterton: I am! Why? Because I cling to comfort, my every thought bent on it – seeking it with all my will and strength as if it were virtue – as if comfort (and not the cross) were the Key to the Kingdom…as if comfort were the narrow gate through which we ought always to strive, when in very truth comfort is the wide gate and the broad road that leads us to our doom! And the whole world wants this, promises this, offers this, and it is a lie! And it is not that for which God made us or to which God calls us! Pope Benedict said to the young people of our world: “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” He might as well have said this to our young people, yes, and to us all…because it is absolutely true. Consider King Solomon in our Scripture text today from the First Book of Kings. Here, he calls himself “a mere youth.” We can surmise that he was a young man in his twenties when he was crowned king – maybe even a teenager. And while I suspect that probably all of us think that we are
the ones having to ask God for things, having to initiate the encounter, in point of fact, it is actually God Who always takes the initiative, if only by inspiring the desire to ask in the first place; and here, in this text, the Lord did not merely inspire that desire to ask but actually “appeared to Solomon in a dream at night” and commanded him to ask. And so, at God’s command, Solomon asked something of God so that God might give it to him. And think about it! Solomon, being “a mere youth” after all, had just enough wild imagination to ask for anything! He could have asked for things of comfort, thus to render his a life of ease. And yet, he did not ask for anything of the sort; instead, he asked for wisdom…for greatness…the pearl of great price. My friends in Christ, when I can finally summon the fortitude to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord with reckless abandon…when I can finally demonstrate the discipline to fast, thus to force my bodily appetites into holy submission…when I can finally embrace that heavenly mirth to be joyful and unafraid in sharing my love for God and the Church with anyone (even with complete strangers, and yes, even with my family)…when I finally have decided that I have had enough of being a sinner and I am ready at long last to be a saint…then I will have finally obtained the pearl of great price…. For what are we willing to give up everything? For what are we willing even to die? And if the answer is Jesus…what then? What keeps us from Him? What holds us back from Him, from the holy greatness of sainthood itself – for which we were made…and to which we are called? May the Lord bless us with the grace that we need, especially in the Holy Eucharist, to learn the answers to those questions, thus to respond in faith, hope, and love with holy aspirations to put comfort aside, to lay down these trinkets of Earth, and to take up now and forever the treasures of Heaven.
on Monday, July 27 at 8:31AM