In last week’s Gospel reading we had the parable of the wheat and the weeds, with the message being that judgment comes at the time of harvest. And the judgment was between wheat and weeds, between the good and the bad. In today’s parables about the kingdom of heaven we get another example of the idea that all will be gathered up – in this case it is fish being caught up in a net – and then at the time of judgment, there will be a process of deciding that this is a good fish and that is a bad fish. And the good fish will be kept and the bad fish will be tossed aside.
Last week, it was fairly easy. A weed is clearly not a grain of wheat. So the process of distinguishing between the one and the other is a little bit like the fact that a coin is either heads or tails. It’s good or it’s bad. A simple, binary, evaluation or judgment.
Now a net full of fish is a little bit harder, but it still ultimately comes down to the judgment that it’s a good fish or it’s a bad fish. And so perhaps we can imagine there is a list. And if a fish is on the good fish list, it’s a keeper. And if it’s not, we throw it out. It seems fairly easy.
Today, one of the examples of the kingdom of heaven that is given to us is that it is like a pearl of great price. I would ask us to take a look at this because I think this parable on the kingdom of heaven has us looking more at the front end of things. Not just everybody’s in until judgment day, but there is a process that Jesus is calling us to while we’re still here. The pearl of great price is more challenging to us because it is no longer binary. It’s not just pearl or no pearl. It’s a pearl of great price.
And that brings up a few items I’d like to just touch on today.
The first is the nature of beauty. The pearl is a beautiful thing. The pearl of great price is a pearl of great beauty. And for most of us when we come to the idea of beauty we tend to seek cover in bromides like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or that “there is no argument when it comes to matters of taste”.
And that is certainly true. I have a friend who really loves classical music, and he’s spent a great deal of time studying it. And when he’s talking about a piece by Rachmaninoff, he can speak at great length and with great passion about the beauty of that music. And I’m not as much a lover of classical music as he is. If we were to turn to some musical artist that is more my taste, I think I could make similar arguments about the crafting of the lyrics and the way that the melody moves around and then perhaps the way the other musicians bring in their instrumentals or harmonies to produce a rich and nuanced sound that is simply beautiful. Even if it’s a country music singer. If it’s done well.
And I think in both cases, each of us would say that this is really beautiful and I don’t see it quite the way you see it but both of us are open to and acknowledge that there is an objective definition of beauty. I can see the beauty in the classical music even if it’s not my preferred taste and he can see the beauty in the country music song even if it’s not his taste.
That objective reality about something like beauty is a concept that all of us as Christians need to embrace. As Christians, we know the source from which true beauty comes. It is the same place that the source of true truth comes from and where true goodness comes from. Like those, true beauty comes from God.
When we understand that true beauty is God’s beauty, then we can all seek with confidence to pursue and search for the pearl of great price because we know it is not just a matter of taste.
So we have to develop a greater sensitivity to what is truly good. That’s part of what we should do as Christians. It’s part of our call: to grow in our understanding and appreciation of what is truly beautiful, what is truly good, and what is truly true.
And we can grow in that as we grow closer to God’s definition of those things because he is in fact the author of all of those good things.
You’ll notice from the Old Testament reading that Solomon asks for wisdom so as to be a better king and judge. Solomon as king will have to figure out which of the two parties in front of him – both of which can make a good case – is actually closer to the objective source of truth and justice, which is God. So Solomon prays for the gift of wisdom. And the gift of wisdom is that received understanding of what is really in conformance with God’s plan. It’s not the same thing as being intellectual, or being clever, or being smart. And that is why wisdom is a gift that we all can grow in, because it’s that gut knowledge, not that head knowledge, that gut knowledge that this is what’s correct, this is what’s right.
And so we have to grow in our pursuit of wisdom, our appreciation of wisdom, and we need to pray for an increase in wisdom so we can more quickly recognize what it is that God is calling us to do, to be better able to see the pearl of great price amid all the many good pearls.
And then finally, if you think about how we get pearls, and maybe this is just from a James Bond movie, but we have to be willing to go down into the dark water and bring up an oyster, and open it up, and find that there’s no pearl at all, not even a decent pearl, certainly not a pearl of great price but no pearl at all, and to not lose heart but to set it aside and dive back down and bring up another oyster and see what’s in it. Figure out whether that’s a pearl or maybe that’s a pearl of great price, and we have to be willing to repeat that process.
And that is the gift of patience and perseverance. To be willing to go through a repetitive action always seeking through wisdom to know what is truly good and to not lose heart. That patient and persevering pursuit of God’s wisdom should be at the heart of our prayer lives. It should be the central activity of our Christian lives.
And so as we prepare for the liturgy of the eucharist, let us thank God for the spiritual gifts he has already given us, and let us beg him for more wisdom, more patience, and more perseverance.