Archive for October 16th, 2007

The Pearl of Great Price

October 16, 2007


Christ told the parable of a merchant in search of fine pearls, who when he had found one truly great one, sold all that he had and bought the pearl – ever since known as the “pearl of great price.” What Christ refers to in the parable, of course, is the Kingdom of God. And lest we confuse anyone – the Kingdom means everything – God Himself and all that you could possibly hunger for as well.

Of course the problem about searching for Great Pearls is that they are only found among many false pearls, and many pearls of far lesser value. More than the “needle in the haystack” – it’s finding a pearl among pearls – even if all pearls are not alike.

It is easy at some point to say, “Well, after all, a pearl is a pearl, and even if this pearl is not THAT pearl, it’s still a pearl.” Which, of course, is all true, but beside the point. You wouldn’t sell all that you have in order to buy just any pearl. And, in truth, as the parable is structured, no other pearl will do.

Searching for that pearl today, the Kingdom of God, the Fullness of the Faith, etc., we have, of course, many pearls, and many stories about the nature of pearls.

Some say there is no real Great Pearl, that this is just an ideal and all pearls, no matter how poor, really partake in the excellence of that true, abstract pearl. So take this one, please.

Others say that there are no Great Pearls to be found among us, just lots of lesser pearls. And the point is to pick the best and know that when everything is said and done, God will turn your poor pearl into the Great Pearl and everything will be fine in the end.

All of these stories, and their variants, make of Christ’s parable mostly a joke. Why speak of a pearl of great price if there was no pearl to be found? Why speak of selling everything in order to possess it, if it is actually as common as gravel along the side of the road?

There are many who have sought to change the meaning of the pearl, in order to keep the parable and set us off chasing red herrings. The Apostles were merchants in search of fine pearls, and they gave up all they had. They did not think that the pearl was abstract or to be found just anywhere or with everyone’s definition of pearls in operation.

The simple fact is that they believed this pearl to be nothing other than the Kingdom of God, manifested in the life of the Church. For this they suffered the loss of all things and purchased the pearl with the price of their blood. To take of that pearl and abstract it today – simply because we (and history) have made such a mess of the Church – is not an answer at all. It is despair.

The pearl of great price exists and is worth all that a man has.

Shortly after my family’s conversion to Orthodoxy, we began the hard work of planting a mission. The first major commitment (other than my need to find secular employment at a fraction of my former ecclesial salary) was to rent space in which to meet. There were very few families at the time. Signing a two-year lease for what seemed a sizable amount each month was frightening, particularly since no human being was standing in the wings and saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll cover it if we need to.” I remember saying to my wife, “This could bankrupt us.” But I also remember adding, “But it’s worth going bankrupt over.”

That is my testimony to the Orthodox Church. This is indeed the pearl of great price, regardless of what man may do with it. It is the true faith, preserved by those who have bought it through the years and kept it as a pearl without deviation from the pearl as it was received. It is worth all that I had – even if I had been a rich merchant. To a degree I was. I had four children – and set their lives and their faith as a downpayment on this pearl. Nothing could have been more precious. And today they are grateful for the pearl it purchased.

I cannot argue with anyone who says that they have found the pearl of great price. But there are many pearls out there, and merchants who would charge far beyond their value. I cannot overcome them with argument. But I will not recant my purchase, my gift. I will not deny the nature of this pearl.

The wonder of it all is that the One Pearl can be had by so many.

How Vulnerable is Your Life?

October 16, 2007


Young parents quickly discover a level of vulnerability they had not known before a child came into their world. With the birth of a child, under most normal circumstances, your heart becomes extremely vulnerable. You discover that you’ve never loved anything so much and the fragility of their lives becomes, sometimes, all too obvious. I’m not certain that this sense of fragility stops even after their grown and no longer fit the description of “child” any longer.

The vulnerability, of course, is that of love. We live in a dangerous world. I can recall standing at a bus stop every morning of my youngest daughter’s early school years because the idea of letting a beautiful young child stand next to a busy street seemed insane to me. Some mornings it was awfully cold. But we’d play games and wait for the bus and I would watch my heart pull away in that large yellow vehicle. Happy again, that we had warded off so many dangers.

That this same daughter, as a teen, today drives an old Volvo, doubtless has much to do with her father’s vulnerability. It’s my heart.

Most of the things that are truly precious to us have a characteristic vulnerability: a child, an aging parent, a spouse, etc. It is also properly true of the Church. Though its existence is underwritten by the promise of heaven, its dependence on love makes it daily vulnerable to all of man’s worst instincts. On any given day we either love each other and take up our cross, or the Church, that marvelous Bride of God, is wounded and hurt. Something fails and hearts are wounded, and disappointed. God has not made us immune to the Cross but has required it of us in our journey into the Kingdom.

But neither you nor I need drive the nails that bind one another to the Cross. We need not speak ill words or offer harsh judgments or crush dimly burning wicks. Today, be St. John the Theologian who stood by the Cross (as did the Mother of God). Offer words of encouragement to brothers and sisters. Offer no word of offence or gloat at another’s suffering.

There is a line from an old Hank Williams song, that always makes me weep (I’m from the South, you know). It reads:

He was Mary’s own darlin’, he was God’s chosen Son
Once He was fair and once He was young
Mary, she rocked Him, her darlin’ to sleep
But they left Him to die like a tramp on the street.

That same darlin’ dwells in each brother and sister you meet today. Let your heart be vulnerable to them. Don’t leave them like a tramp on the street.