A Pearl of Great Price
Matthew 13: 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
One day I was attending a Quiet Day at the Episcopal Cathedral in Hartford, CT. The Reverend William Rich was leading the reflection periods. In between the sessions we had 45 minutes to be silent anywhere we chose.
I would go outside and take a “monastic walk” through the downtown, not stopping to talk with anyone.
I happened upon a small independent jewelry store. I had just read a book by Frederick Beuchner, Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale (Harper, New York: 1977). It is a series of lectures, the Beecher Lectures, he delivered at Yale one year. In it he begins with some reflections on Henry Ward Beecher, the abolitionist preacher of the 19th century and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Beecher was fascinated by small, beautiful things. He carried a small pouch of jewels in his pocket so that he might hold them in his hand from time to time in dark moments, not unfamiliar to him, to remind him of the intricate beauty of all creation and humankind.
I stepped into the jewelry shop and silently viewed diamonds, rubies, pearls – and was drawn into the firery, internal colors of the opals. I remember standing and peering into that interior universe that seems to blaze within an opal – a sort of microcosmos of all of creation. I stood there entranced by the opals for a few moments that seemed to stretch on for eons. It was all there – everything God had created somehow represented in the opal’s bright and colorful interior.
Upon returning to the cathedral I sat in a pew to listen to what Bill had to share with us next. It was this tiny jewel of a parable of Jesus about one pearl of great value – a pearl that the merchant divests himself “of all that he had and bought it.”
I can only remember one thing that Bill Rich said that morning. But that one thing was a life changing moment. Bill encouraged, exhorted us really, to understand that you are the pearl of great value. You are the pearl of great value, and God is the merchant, the very God who creates you in God’s image – imago Dei. God in Christ gives away all, everything, the entire unfolding of the universe as vast as the heavens and yet able to be contained and displayed within the blazing inner world of an opal. God values you more than anything.
God values you more than anything, more than everything. How often we find that so hard to believe. Not because of God’s judgment, but because of how severely we judge ourselves.
You are the pearl of great value. We all need some sort of pouch of jewels to carry in our pockets that we can reach for, touch and be reminded – we are the pearl of great value, we are imago Dei, we are God’s Beloved.
Just before tragedy struck my two closest colleagues in my church office two years ago, I had given the girls in my World Religion’s class an assignment: to take one verse from a surah in the Qu’ran and illustrate it, doing so in the style of Islamic art. One girl fashioned an origami prayer bubble, and decorated the outside of it with geometric designs. It looks like a flat piece of folded paper. You blow in a hole at one end, and voila! It opens up into a “bubble.” When I looked inside the hole at the end I could see these words from the Qu’ran, “The Lord loves those who put their trust in Him. (3:159)” I was as mesmerized looking into that origami bubble as Beecher with his jewels, as a scientist searching the heavens with the Hubble Telescope or examining a single cell through a microscope.
A few days later I was confronted with the tragedy of the Gospel in the most human terms. As I began to sort through the tsunami of feelings threatening to demolish my faith, I began to take the prayer bubble wherever I went. It was in my shirt pocket every day-over my heart. From time to time I would take it out, blow it up, look inside and be reminded that I am a pearl of great value, I am God’s beloved, I am the object of the Lord’s love. It became an important talisman for my healing and my faith.
Beuchner’s notion of the Gospel as comedy lies in those unexpected moments when we find ourselves in the most unlikely of places being touched by God – reminded of the utterly absurd notion that a God who with the utterance of one word, “Light,” can set in motion the unfolding mysteries and beauties of an entire universe is also attentive to you and me, giving away everything for my sake and your sake.
“You are the pearl of great price,” said Bill Rich that morning in Hartford, CT, home to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and to a fine little jewelry store around the corner from the Episcopal Cathedral. We all need to be reminded of those words.
Bill’s aunt Sally was for a couple of years my yoga instructor and mentor. She would always have us lie on our mats at the end of a session to rest and meditate. Sally Rich would say the words, “Where is your mind?” We all need to be reminded of these words as well. For where our mind is is where we are.
We all need a talisman of some kind we can carry around so that whenever we reach into our pockets we might remember that the Jesus in Matthew’s gospel says, “You are the pearl of great value – you are God’s beloved.” That this same Jesus, flesh and blood like every one of us, gives it all away for you and for me. This is where our minds need to be – constantly reminding ourselves that we are made in the image of God, as are all other people around the world. We are each and every one of us pearls of great price. Remember this and all that it means and implies. It really is as simple as this. If our minds are set on our being pearls of great value, our hearts will be set on fire with the brilliance of an opal sparkling in the light. Amen.