“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13.45-46)
The world is enormous. So much is going on both in terms of it being the environment we live in; and in terms of the vast human society that exists. The factors that affect our natural and social conditions are beyond our capacity to comprehend wholly, even with technology. It can be wonderful, but also fearsome. All our decisions are matters of guess work and rely on a certain stability and predictability to life. Lose that stability, and laptop computers won’t provide the answers. That old phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I,” applies to all of us. Getting up in the morning is an act of faith—Faith in a God whose got everything in hand.
By that faith that we must live, and not according to the world and its agents that tell us to live by our fear, and to surrender to them our freedoms, our very souls in exchange for false security that only increases our anxieties and make of life hell.
The metaphors that Jesus gives us to convey the nature of the kingdom of heaven gives us a sense of God’s devotion to our ultimate and eternal well-being.
We’d be mistaken to think that the man who finds the treasure, the pearl merchant, is just anyone. Rather, Jesus is talking about himself. He’s talking about God.
And so, the “someone” who finds the treasure is God, and the pearl merchant is God; who is it that we know who gives up everything, goes “all in” to secure the treasure, the pearl, that is, the kingdom of heaven? God is the only one who I know of, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son: His son, the Logos of God, the mind of God that conceives all things, the Word of God that creates all things. This is what God makes incarnate to live among us and sacrifices to win us.
Jesus speaks of the kingdom as like a fishing net that takes a great catch, and the good and bad fish are sorted out. The fish are humanity.
The kingdom of heaven is a real treasure because it is made up of, not things, but persons; and not just any people, but those who love God, love truth, and live out of that love freely, seeking always to give expression to that love in all that they say and do.
And then it is those who are in communion with God through that love who then share in the excitement of finding the kingdom; who are so willing to be like Christ, and sell everything to be a part of it.
It’s the only thing that matters. Consider the pearl merchant who sells whole stockpile of pearls to have the one perfect specimen. He has gone out of business; he has nothing to trade. He has just the one pearl. It’s something that he can hold in the palm of his hand, perhaps no larger than a hazelnut, and yet, it is enough—to possess God, and be possessed by Him, that is enough.
One of my favourite Christian mystics is Julian of Norwich. We don’t know much about her; we do know that in her 14th century life she would have known war and plague. There is some speculation that she was a widow, and a woman who had lost children to the diseases of the day. She had visions; they came to her in the midst of illness.
Against all reasonable reckoning, she confidently recorded these visions as a greater truth than any that came from her own hard life experience.
In the first vision from our Lord that she recorded she writes,
“… the Lord showed me, in a spiritual manner, how intimately he loves us… As I understand it, he is everything that is good.
He also showed me a tiny thing in the palm of my hand, the size of a hazelnut. I looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought: ‘What is this?’ And this is the answer that came to me: ‘It is all that is made.’
I was astonished that it managed to survive: it was so small that I thought that it might disintegrate. And in my mind, I heard this answer:
‘It lives on and will live on forever because God loves it.’
– The Revelation of Divine Love, 1st Showing, ch. 5
We were away last week; went camping at Long Point. We got there Monday. Tuesday afternoon, we saw what looked to be half of the campers packing up. At every campsite there is a post that displays its number, and a ticket showing what day you checkout. Almost all of these indicated people had planned to stay to Thursday or Friday. Yet so many were leaving. Why?
I asked someone who was packing up. She said, “They’re calling for rain for the next three days, thunderstorms all tomorrow morning.”
So, the weather experts forecast rain, and half the campers were literally pulling up stakes to go.
Wednesday morning it rained for about half an hour, a light gentle rain. The winds whipped the lake up, but that made it fun to play in the surf. Thursday morning, another light shower followed by a hot day of sunshine.
We had a nice time. What a shame all those people left…
Now I make two observations: one, that people are far too inclined to trust the weather experts. Why would you? I mean, the old joke is that being a weather man is the only job where you can be wrong half the time and not get fired. I relied on my five senses, and I just didn’t “feel” that the forecast was correct—I was prepared to be wrong, though. I put up a tarp and we had everything under cover before going to bed that Tuesday night.
Secondly, since when does camping require perfect, rain-free conditions? You know, into all our lives a little rain must fall… especially when camping! It’s part of the whole experience. As far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t rain at least once on a week long camping trip, you’ve not been camping. If it pours rain, you stay in the tent. You play cards, eat junk food, read, nap; and a couple of times you make a dash to the washrooms.
… and all is well and shall be well, as Julian of Norwich famously said.
Now someone might object: it’s a relatively petty thing to not risk three days of camping in the rain and to go home. Yes, it’s a shame to miss out on something that, well, God had prepared for you in that place at that time, but really, this is a minor matter.
I was talking with Biserka about this; and she said she had a better example.
About seven years ago, B., Helena and I went on a big trip to Rome, and then crossed the Adriatic to Croatia. Part of the time was spent visiting B.’s family who had not met Helena. I don’t speak Croatian, so I didn’t catch all the conversation, but she told me she got a scolding from one of her aunts.
I’ve mentioned before that our daughter Helena is a cancer survivor. She had a very dangerous malignant brain tumour and much of the sixth and seventh years of her life was spent fighting it.
Biserka’s aunt said we were foolish, irresponsible parents to be taking her abroad. What if something happened? We were so far from her doctors. Now, Helena was a couple of years past the end of her treatment, but yes, there were ongoing issues. How dare we risk her health, her life to go on a fancy holiday!
Biserka, with considerable patience, asked: what would you have us do? Lock her up in our house? It’s important for her to experience the world, to see beautiful things, meet interesting people; especially to come to the land that is half her heritage, and visit with her family and come to know them. Life is full of risk, and she has to live. And she has to learn to trust the God who loves her and wants her to truly live; live without fear.
That’s the wisdom I share with Catholic families who call me when a child is diagnosed with cancer. My counsel is to live, let your child live, and trust God wherever your journey takes you. Have birthday parties, go on vacation, go to the movies, visit family. Yes, it is more difficult with a child who is immunity compromised, who has all sorts of medical needs, who might need to be fed through a tube; but your job as parents is to help them live their lives, not shut them up like Rapunzel in a tower and only allow them a vicarious existence via technology. Don’t teach them fear, but give them confidence in whatever situation they find themselves.
In the risk there is great reward. They must spend their lives on those things that are of God: to see and experience creation, to love and serve one’s neighbour. To do things sensibly, but not fearfully; to trust God in an uncertain world, and learn that the world is not everything, but rather that God is all in all; to surrender their lives to Him, and find a true life in Him.
The world is teaching us fear these days. And authority, seemingly beneficent, is feeding that fear. I am not counselling foolishness on anyone’s part; but I am speaking against prevailing foolishness that argues we can ever be entirely safe if we just do as we’re told—even as what we’re told is often contradictory, inconsistent, and the objectives we’re supposedly working toward change; even as we see obvious failure of our leadership in dealing with problems, and then the ratcheting up of alarm to get us to trust them yet more. That in wrecking ourselves, spiritually, economically, culturally, we can be made safe; that to save the community we have to destroy it. I don’t trust those who say they can rebuild it. The world is too complicated, and each of us quite unique, no earthly authority has the competence to re-order a free people. There is no authority but God; and we must all be like King Solomon and recognize that we are only servants of that authority.
That was Solomon’s wisdom, when he remembered it. We are not our own, but God’s, a treasure, a pearl of great price, he holds us in the palm of his hand, and we will live because God loves us.