If there were to be a theme for today’s liturgy it would surely have to be wisdom: not the wisdom of the world but something deeper and much more precious. True wisdom means being able to see life from God’s perspective. Our Lord taught that this wisdom is worth more than anything we possess or could ever possess. King Solomon realised this, and when God gave him the choice of possessing anything he wanted, he didn’t choose wealth, or power or immortality; rather Solomon put wisdom at the top of his list. And how much we need this same wisdom today. Just look at all the futile, purposeless, silly and misguided things people do.
Some friends of mine who lived in South Africa for most of their lives told me the story of a farmer out there who owned land that was extremely hard to work. The farmer dreamed of digging up a huge diamond and of being able to retire in comfort, but all he got for his labour was rocks. Anyway, he eventually got fed up of farming, sold his farm for next to nothing and went off into the mountains to search for those elusive precious stones. Some months later he read in the newspaper that the man who bought his farm dug up a huge diamond on the property, which turned out to be one of the richest diamond deposits ever found in South Africa.
Now I’m sure we all feel very sorry for the farmer who sold his land for a song. And yet if he had persevered with what he had and if he had been content with his lot in life, then the chances are he would have found the diamond deposit himself. Instead he gave up when the going got tough. Yet the farmer is typical of a good many people. Now, in many cases it’s not that people are afraid of hard work and sacrifice. It’s just that they lack ‘wisdom’. They don’t know what is important. They pursue the wrong goals and they look for happiness and contentment in all the wrong places.
The lives of many people today are purposeless and empty. Untold thousands, perhaps even millions of people throughout Britain, Europe and the United States watch a string of trashy soap operas on television and wouldn’t know what to do without them. There was an article in the news some time ago saying how some people actually lose touch with reality by watching these shows day in and day out. They identify so much with the characters and the situations in the soap opera; they begin to think that this is part of the ‘real’ world. And as a result some people are no longer able to distinguish what is important in life, and they have to content themselves with a diminished and distorted picture of the world, and this results more often than not in personal suffering and impoverishment. It can even harm others.
People like this return time and time again to the same old wells of pleasure; wells which they know will never quench their thirst. They search and search and search, and though there is nothing there they keep on searching. They go to a great deal of trouble to possess satisfactions which don’t last an hour, and which ultimately often bring misery in their wake.
On the whole it takes us a long time to see what is so clear and obvious. And instead of making straight for the object, we allow ourselves to be diverted and we fling ourselves on trifles instead of the important things. How quickly we forget what is most precious or exchange it for something else.
There are so many influences and pressures on us today, which lead us to ‘make a living’ before ‘living’. Our chief task in life is not to be successful, it’s not to be happy, or rich, or fulfilled. No, our chief task is to live well. And for us Catholics this means putting our hope in God and in his Kingdom, and to live our lives according to his Will and his Law revealed in the teachings of the Catholic Church. So what if we miss out on the other things? After all, they are only passing pleasures. What if we have to make sacrifices? Well, happiness, wisdom and harmony are not to be found along the smooth, easy path. The best things in life have to be paid for. The question is: are we willing to pay the price?
May heaven help those people who not only have not found the pearl of great price, but don’t even know where to look for it. Christ himself offers us this pearl. It is he who invites us into the Kingdom of God. Only God can quench our thirst for happiness. Only God can satisfy our hunger for meaning and for love. And so, if we lose God, we lose everything. But if we find God, we find everything.
Wisdom then, is a gift of God. It means that we put our trust in His word rather than in human wisdom and human experts. Wisdom gives us an understanding, a vision of life that cannot be bought. In this sense then, “wisdom is the pearl of great price.” Our tragedy as believers is not that we cannot find the pearl, for it is offered to us in the gospels and in the teaching of the Church; the tragedy is that we are unwilling to pay the price for it.
Our Lord’s parables today underline the fact that wisdom calls for our total response and our whole-hearted action. But what they reveal is our hesitancy and our half-heartedness. We continually hold back, trying to have it both ways, and in doing so we comprise both God and man. We compromise our faith and our Christian values for the passing values of an increasingly secular and materialistic world.
The pearl of great price is offered to those who open their hands, letting go of other things, in order to embrace it.