Seeing the Bigger Picture

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
1Kings 3:5, 7-12 – Romans 8:28-30 – Matthew 13:44-52.

Rory was a clever, gifted and hard-working young student. He had a dream: it was to study chemistry at a top university, and he was intent on being accepted for a place in the upcoming academic year. The university he had in mind had an international reputation for ground-breaking research and development. Rory had two challenges to face: the first was to pass the entrance examination and the interview, and the second was to convince his parents that their financial sacrifice would benefit the family in the long-term when he could command a good salary. The family’s annual budget would certainly be squeezed if he succeeded in going to that university. It would cost an awful lot of money. Rory thought he was capable of handling the first challenge, but meeting the second challenge would be tough on the whole family. He knew that there was no way his parents could meet the financial requirements. The money simply wasn’t there, and the university wasn’t offering scholarships to poor students.

Rory’s parents knew how much pressure they would be under financially if Rory got a place at university, but they hid their concerns and put on a brave face since the first challenge was yet to be overcome. Rory did everything he could to do himself justice: he studied very hard, sat the exams, went through the interview, and when the results were out, he had passed with flying colours. Thrilled to bits, he rushed straight to his father, Sandy, to give him the exciting news. Sandy took a deep breath, looked his son straight in the eye, and made him a promise: “don’t worry about the cost, my boy. I will help you financially to fulfil your dream, no matter what it takes”. He went out and sold his sole asset, a plot of land he cultivated, and he deposited all the money he got for it in a bank account specifically for his son’s education. Today, Sandy loves to tell the story of how that decision totally changed the life of his family. Thanks to going through the educational sausage-machine, Rory went on to well-paid jobs that lifted the family out of poverty. Sandy had seen the bigger picture and had summoned up the courage to sacrifice all he had to give Rory the opportunity to succeed.

How many times do we miss out on God-given opportunities, either because we fail to grasp them or because we lack the courage to embrace them? In the Gospel, Jesus used the parables of the merchant and the dragnet to teach us the importance of searching for the ultimate treasure – that is, the Kingdom of God. Seek you first the Kingdom of heaven … and all these things shall be yours as well (Mt 6:33). In the First Reading, Solomon requested the ultimate gift of wisdom from God, and was rewarded for his choice. Wisdom is better than gold (Prov 16:16). Solomon realized that, even if one is perfect among the sons of men, without the wisdom that comes from God, he is nothing … with God is wisdom (cf. Wis 9:6, 9). The search for the ultimate treasure to be had on this side of eternity requires that you have a vision, requires that you see the bigger picture, as Sandy saw in Rory’s academic intelligence. Similarly, we should not simply treat our search for Christ as just another hobby of ours, but should go all out to find Him, to get to know Him and to get to know as much about Him as we can.

To be sure, there are many wonderful things in this world, and many things in which we can find loveliness – for example in the arts, in service to others, and in the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and material objects. These are all lovely: but the question of whether they help us obtain the finest pearl (‘the pearl of great price’) for ourselves is a question we cannot afford to dodge. Do they help us to look beyond these earthly comforts and see the bigger picture, which is that the Kingdom of God is real? What efforts are we willing to put in to acquire the ultimate treasure trove of heaven for ourselves? In the parable of the hidden treasure trove in the field, the man was unaware of its existence and simply came across it; but when he had discovered it, he was ready to sell everything he owned in order to make it his. In the parable of the pearl of great price, the merchant reacted in the same way: he sold everything he had in order to own it. Gaining admission to the Kingdom is worth our total sacrifice. Like St. Paul, we are confident that God will continue to make all things work together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His decree (Rom 8:28).

And finally… let’s consider how a pearl is formed. When a speck of sand or parasite gets into an oyster shell, the oyster reacts to the irritation by secreting a substance called mother-of-pearl to surround the intrusive element. It is this secretion that builds up and up and gradually forms a pearl. A pearl is formed out of the irritation and suffering of the oyster. A dragnet gets dirty and ripped when it’s in use to haul in indiscriminately all kinds of marine life, but nonetheless it will bring in a quantity of edible fish. Should we put up with dirt & hurt when we are striving to gain the ultimate treasure, the Kingdom of God? Yes, we should. Should we endure suffering and irritation too? Yes, we should, because when the beautiful, perfectly-formed pearl is separated out from the corruptible flesh, it is lovely and fit for a king. The ultimate treasure is the Kingdom of heaven. We Christians are determined to seek it out and to make the necessary sacrifices to gain it. And we shall succeed! Amen. God bless you.