The Pearl of Great Price

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

The Gospel from Matthew has two parables : The Treasure in The Field and The Pearl of Great Price

                                                          Art above by David Bonnell 

Jesus said to his disciples:

"The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,

which a person finds and hides again,

and out of joy goes and sells all that he has

and buys that field.


Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it."

One of my favourite programmes is BBC's Radio 4 Something Understood. Below is a recording of Pete Rollins , taken from an excerpt of one of the programmes earlier this year that dealt with the parable of the Great Pearl. 

Rollins is associated with  emergent church stuff and whom I often find incomprehensible but on this occasion he is quite good). His books How (Not) To Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal seem to inspire some and incense others.
The Orthodox Heretic is a collection of original parables that encourage the reader to examine familiar and not so familiar stories from unique and sometimes challenging angles. Whether you love or hate these parables  they are designed to make you think - which, is much of what Rollins as a philosopher hoped to accomplish when writing them.

Here the parable of the Pearl of Great Price is retold from the viewpoint of a woman in Christ's audience...............

The Pearl of Great Price by peter-rollins

My Reflections

But first a little science.

Pearls are formed in oysters as a response to an irritant, which enters when the shell valves are open for feeding or respiration.

The oyster secretes nacre, a sticky substance around the object to protect the soft tissue and seals off the irritation.
Layer upon layer the nacre coats the irritant and a pearl is formed, buried deep within the oyster.

Light reflected from the layers produces the iridescent lustre.  
Pearls vary in colour, depending upon the type of  oyster, the type and depth of water where they live. 
Pearls that are grown in warmer deeper water tend to be darker in colour, are more rare and valuable. 
The pearl is the gem of the sea. Pearl is often used as a metaphor for something rare, and fine, and admirable. It is a symbol of femininity, wisdom, charity, honesty, integrity, preciousness, purity of heart, and spiritual transformation.
My Reflections.

In our present consumer frenzied world  we are probably all familar with the phrase "I've got to have it" but the stark reality is  that we don't need half of what we think we can't do without. Try telling that to your children , teenagers or even adults.

The parable of the pearl is a wonderful metaphor for the way in which our spiritual lives are  formed .

Inside the shells of our heart  we are irritated  by feeding and taking in all the rubbish we are led to believe is  needed to live but cumulatively these damage us, both physically and spiritually.  

Christ "our nacreous shell " forms and  protects us layer by layer-
and the deeper we go with Him, day by day, month by month , 
year by year, depth by depth, -

in the hard daily grind and grit of of our lives ,

our spiritual transformation slowly begins to take place.

We receive gift layers of honesty, wisdom, integrity, charity : all these increase by feeding on the Word Of God , enabling us to reach out to others. 

The layers of our hearts are created and fused together through all types of circumstances - sometimes through depths of despair and at others through times of peace and joy.

It is only truly rare and  great pearls that have learnt much over many years that are able to reflect to others the iridescent beauty  of God; these are the saints I guess.

Imitation or fake cultured  pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewelry, but the quality of their iridescence is usually very poor - See the metaphor again ?? 

All the material things we widely crave are fake imitations  and even the false prophets of shiny new age spirituality are of no permanent lasting use as they only have a surface thin lustre and no annular depth of growth  that  enables the true brilliance of  the truth of God to reflect to others. 
However, it is not always easy to know what the truth is these days . ( Is that Pilate speaking ?)

When reading up on the formation of pearls it was nice to see that the most valuable pearls occur in the wild, but they are very rare. and pearls from the sea are valued more highly than freshwater pearls.

 This fits in with the idea that we need to be the salt of the earth  and wild at heart for God to thrive in us. !!

I suppose an obvious difference between the two parables in the gospels is that the treasure in the field is "found" and so is an accidental discovery of surprise and delight but the pearl  is "sought after"; a deliberate endeavour of a person who knows the value of it . 

So in life, we often encounter the treasures of the presence and action of God and the Holy Spirit in unexpected ways, finding God in all things, as St Ignatius would say.

The treasure is always there for us even if it is hidden. The fact that we are digging in a field suggest that we may fruitlessly search in life for all sorts of encounters, for meaning, for truth, for joy, whatever.  

But sometimes as in Gerard Hughes book  Surprised by Joy we are led unexpectedly through someone or something, an experience, an often simple encounter that leads us to that ah ha ! moment , and in that moment we find the ultimate experience of  true joy in God alone and we realise that to continue this new way of being will cost us everything. 

Yes this love of God we really do have to have !!

The priceless pearl too,- once it is found will cost us everything !! 

Possessing God is costly but priceless; it cannot be bought or sold.I It can only be learned, lived, and told.

So in keeping with two parables with the same message here are three versions of "Je crois entendre encore" from the opera "Les pecheurs de perles" ( The Pearl Fishers), By Georges Bizet ; the first performed by The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Gardens. Sung by Salvatore Licitra.

The second is by David Gilmour . The third is an instrumental version played by Joshua Bell.

The choice is yours- you may even like all three !!


claire said...

I like to read your comment on this because it is so good to encounter your own vision of this.

Thank you.

Tim said...

Pearls and irritants. Sacrificing everything for one priceless thing. You have given us a pearl here, Phil. Thank you!