Recognizing What is Truly Valuable
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2023
Would you recognize what is truly valuable if you find it? In this Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52) Jesus first talks about someone who finds a pearl of great price while seeking it, and then another person who encounters a treasure in a field by accident. There is a reason why Jesus gives us two different perspectives.
The person who finds the pearl of great price is a seeker. He’s looking through many bins of pearls. One can picture him at some oriental grand bazaar or a flea market. One time I was at the grand bazaar in Istanbul, and they actually had booths that were something like this (with the stall owner watching!). There you would find pearls of different colors and shapes. The fun is looking through treasure that might be of great value, like people do at garage sales or coin collectors do. Such people know what they want and recognize the truly valuable item when they find it.
The treasure in the field is quite different. This person is a worker who has been contracted to dig—maybe a trench or a ditch. He doesn’t own the land. Quite by accident he encounters this buried treasure! This would not have been far-fetched. People in those days often hid wealth by burying it during times of war or societal chaos, not trusting banks. Perhaps a previous landowner had forgotten about this treasure or died and the heirs were not informed of its whereabouts. In any case, the current landowner knows nothing about this treasure. The worker who finds it does not steal the treasure – instead he buys the field for himself, selling everything he has.
One person finds a treasure while seeking, the other quite by accident, but in both cases, they recognize their opportunity when they see it. In the same way, Christ expects us to seek him diligently in this world. We have to look for the valuable amid the fake pearls that vie for our attention, and that means living in prayerful expectation. The gospels tell us where to find Jesus. On the other hand, we will also find treasure as it were by accident, unexpectedly. At these times we have to be ready to take advantage of our opportunity when it comes or we may lose it forever.
The gospel finishes by Jesus pointing out that the stakes are very high. Those who have chosen worthless things in life and have made worthless choices will find they have wasted their lives, missing opportunities God sent while at the same time not having sought what is truly valuable. Some things, like our faith, are so very valuable that they are worth selling everything we have if necessary. To know we are loved by Christ and how to show him love in this world is indeed worth everything.