The story goes that one of America’s old industrial robber barons purchased a yacht, not just any yacht but a very luxurious yacht. An acquaintance asked him how much it cost. The old robber baron replied, “If you need to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.”
Not many of us have even approached that level of wealth. Have you ever known anyone who is not concerned about the price of anything they’re about to purchase? “How much does it cost?” is a question everyone asks. We check the price of everything and ask ourselves if we can we afford to pay the price. And, unless we are foolish, we also ask: “Is it worth the cost?”
In today’s Gospel (Mt 13: 44-52) we find Jesus addressing both of those questions: “How much does it cost? and “Is it worth the price I’ll have to pay?”
Today’s parable tells us of a man who stumbled upon a buried treasure, a pearl of great price. Was he a day laborer? Was he a hired hand with few resources? No, he was a merchant, a businessman, one who is savvy and knows the value of things. He was a risk-taker, one who sold everything and made a risk-capital investment in order to secure that hidden treasure. Pearl merchants back then were men of means. This merchant’s career was in buying and selling fine jewels; he was well acquainted with the worth of things. He converted all of his assets to cash in order to buy this one very precious and costly pearl.
The point to note is not the fact that we come upon God’s treasures in our lives. They are hidden in the ordinary days and events in our lives. Many times we stumble upon them or else something happens that causes us to realize that God’s gifts to us have been with us all along; we simply failed to notice them. This is true for all of us, myself included. But that’s not the point I’m raising with you today. What I want us to examine today is what we do when we discover them. What actions do we take? It seems to me that is the point of Jesus’ parable. God offers – He’s always offering us His love and care. The big question deals with how we respond, if we respond at all.
To follow Jesus is costly – or so we tell ourselves. But how costly? Is it really costly to follow in the way of Jesus? To be sure, it will place demands on our hearts, our minds, and our souls but the big question is not how much it will cost us, it’s rather the worth what we will get. What Jesus offers us is worth any price. All the really valuable things in life need to be judged not in terms of how much they cost but what they are worth.
Some things in life simply cost too much, and foolishly acting without wisdom, we buy into them. Take for instance a middle-aged man who is enchanted by a younger woman. She makes him feel young again. Losing his self-respect, violating his marriage vows, he trashes his is relationship with his family and with God and gives himself over to her. In addition he loses the confidence and trust of his children, his friends, and he crushes the heart of a good woman, his wife.
Is it a bargain? Some things simply cost too much. For instance, what is the cost of the loss of our self-respect? What is it worth to have self-respect? What’s the cost of our loss of the respect of others? What’s it worth to have the respect of others? What’s the cost of the loss of the love of others? The loss of our honor? The loss of a clean and peaceful conscience? What is it worth to have all of those virtues in our character? What’s it worth to be known as a man or a woman who has those qualities, to be known as a person of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and possessed of the highest of character?
Some things are worth whatever they cost. Some things are worth every sacrifice and price we have to pay for them. For example the respect we receive from others. The freedom of knowing that God’s sees you and respects you; what would it like to be in the presence of God without any shame? Imagine living so that you never have to apologize to anyone for anything you thought, or said, or did? What value would you put on living with yourself like that?
Let’s not fool ourselves. Greatness of character comes at a price. A great life is expensive and costly. Oh, not in terms of money, with rather in terms of paying the price of giving up being lazy, of giving up our comfortable ease, of giving up self-centeredness and self-concern. Being a great human being demands a lot from us. It requires discipline and self-sacrifice; it requires self-denial, hard work, and care in our relationships with others. Conversely, selfish living in smallness of heart can be terribly expensive… it can cost us some of the things that we hold most dear in life.
Wisdom leads us and invites us to discern our greatest treasures. Wisdom is a gift from God and we need to pray for it. We need to ask God to give us the wisdom to take a good, hard, honest look at ourselves and our lives in the light of these two big questions: How much does it cost, and is it worth the price we must pay for it?
Jesus has some answers to these two questions. Are our answers any better than His?
God’s wisdom is available if we want it but we have to seek it, to learn to pray for it and then pay attention to God’s voice in our hearts. Wise persons are those who learn and listen, having a teachable heart and not pretending to know it all. Wise persons take time each day to reflect and think things over in the presence of God. Humbly “ask and you will receive, Jesus tells us. And when asking, “…seek first the Kingdom and all will be given to you as well,” He told us.
Again, let me emphasize that it is we who must do the seeking. God has already been busy seeking us out. Everything depends upon our responses.