The Diocese of Arlington is incredibly blessed to have priests like Father Michael Kelly. I was reminded of this when I heard his homily on yesterday’s Gospel, which was about what it means to be a disciple. In the Gospel, Jesus says (Matthew 13:44-46):
“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.”
That’s actually the shorter of the two versions of yesterday’s Gospel, but these two images Fr. Kelly focused on. In describing the Kingdom of Heaven as the “Pearl of Great Price,” he reminded us that the merchant would give up everything — all the other fine pearls he’d found over the years, his wealth, everything — in exchange for an all-or-nothing deal. That is, the merchant can’t have 90% of the pearl, and sell the other 10% so he has a backup. He can either have the entire pearl or none of it. If he’s a dollar short, he can’t buy the pearl; if he needs an extra dollar and wants to sell the pearl, he has to sell the whole thing.
So it is with the Kingdom of Heaven. If we sell our souls a little bit, we’ve sold the Pearl completely. There’s no taking 99% of the Gospel and 1% of sin. We can’t say, “God, I’ll give you this, that, and the other thing, but on this one tiny issue
going to remain in control, and you’ll have to take a backseat.” You’re trying to buy the pearl for less than its selling price. It’s selling price is everything you have
, and even the merchant can’t talk that price down. And if you already have
the Kingdom of Heaven, if you’re already saved, and you decide to sell that salvation for one small thing — a grudge you don’t want to let go of, some sinful desire of the flesh, the glamour of pride, whatever it is — you’re selling the entire pearl, just for that single dollar.
Jesus’ point is that a pearl merchant would understand just how valuable that pearl was. Even if he had to make some short term sacrifices to acquire it, it’s such a good deal he’d be crazy to turn it down. And if we genuinely considered how valuable the Kingdom of Heaven — eternal life with our glorious God — truly is, we’d find the whole idea of sin just crazy. Wander away from God? Abandon the Pearl of Great Price? Yeah, right! So the fact that we sin –deliberately sin, even — should tell us that we’re selling God out for peanuts.
Father Kelly also said this (I’m paraphrasing from memory), on the image of the Kingdom of God as a treasure:
The first time I thought seriously about discipleship was when I was in a men’s small prayer group. The small group leader quoted this passage: “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.” He then asked the men in the group: what is it in your life that’s your treasure? What is there that you’re willing to give up all that you have in order to possess it? Unsurprisingly, men were answering “Jesus.” The small group leader was ready for this.
So he said, “let’s look at the reverse, the un-discipleship.” Judas betrays Jesus, by selling Him out for thirty pieces of silver (Mt. 27:3). He then asked: what would you sell Jesus out for? At this point, the men are much more visibly struggling: would they compromise their faith in Christ if their faith stood in the way at fame and fortune? Of course, they’d like to think not, but…
At this point, the group leader interjected a third time. “Think about the last mortal sin you commit. That’s what you sold Christ out for.”