Noted American novelist John Steinbeck wrote a famous novel entitled “The Pearl.” He quotes the parable of the pearl of great price from the Gospel of Matthew to begin the story. It is set in a poor village of Mexico where a family has an infant son they adore so much. The child, however, gets ill and they are unable to afford the medicines due to their poverty and the corruption of those in power. The father of the family finds a pearl of great price in the ocean, but the corrupt pearl merchants conspire to cheat him of a fair price for it. Desperate, the family flees to Mexico City in the hopes of obtaining a greater price. The pearl merchants chase after the family, and after a brief struggle, the husband and wife return to their poor village with the body of their dead son, shot to death in the skirmish with the bounty hunters.
The novel forces us to come to grips with social injustice, but it also forces us to consider what is of ultimate value in our lives. Certainly the child is their pearl, and no doubt the fate of the child is tied to the pearl of the ocean needed to pay for medicine to save the child. Yet, did they see their treasure correctly? The readings for today’s liturgy force us to consider this question in our own lives.
In the Gospel text Jesus presents us with several images of the kingdom of God. All of these images combined show us that the kingdom of God is the greatest treasure we can possibly possess and that we should strive continually to possess this kingdom in our lives. Yet, how do we envision this kingdom? Do we see it in terms of power and domination, or do we see it in terms of service and building up the members of the kingdom of God? Jesus makes it clear that it is not for us to decide who belongs to the kingdom: we are merely present to be caught up in its path and allow ourselves to be taken into its mystery. At the end of time God will decide who belongs and who does not belong. As St. Augustine taught, the city of man and the city of God are intermingled on this earth until the end of the age. We can only remain faithful to the city of God by conforming ourselves to the teaching and example of Jesus.
Paul makes plain what was implicit in the Gospel text: the kingdom of God and our election into it is a gift from God. Our calling as members of this kingdom is also a gift and a great responsibility. Again we must ask ourselves how we envision this gift? Do we seek to keep this gift for ourselves and use it for our own power, or do we seek to share this gift with others and use it to benefit others? I remember overhearing a Catholic encourage a priest by saying, “Keep the faith!” The priest replied, “No, we must give it away freely to others.” That exchange captures well these different views of this precious gift entrusted to us.
At the end of the day, we are all faced with the same choice Solomon has in the first reading. In baptism we have been anointed kings to share in that ministry of Jesus, but again how do we envision this kingship in our lives? We can certainly pray for long life, riches, and victory over our enemies. At face value these seem like fine things, until they are measured against what Solomon actually prays for: an understanding heart to help the people of God to distinguish right from wrong. He asks to be a servant king, not a domineering king – and God rewards him for making the correct choice and for having the correct view of kingship, gift, and the great treasure entrusted to each and every one of us.
As we strive to follow the teaching and example of Jesus, to imitate Solomon as we live out our baptismal vocation in the midst of the world, and to ensure that our world is free from the injustices that lead to desperate decisions, let us unite our hearts with the Church in her opening prayer for today’s liturgy: “God our Father, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the splendor of creation, in the beauty of human life. Touched by your hand our world is holy. Help us to cherish the gifts that surround us, to share your blessings with our brothers and sisters, and to experience the joy of life in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Human Rights Office for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
Monday, July 25
2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalms 126:1bc-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Tuesday, July 26
Exodus 33:7-11; 34:5b-9, 28
Psalms 103:6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Wednesday, July 27
Psalms 99:5, 6, 7, 9
Thursday, July 28
Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38
Psalms 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a, 11
Friday, July 29
Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37
Psalms 81:3-4, 5-6, 10-11ab
Saturday, July 30
Leviticus 25:1, 8-17
Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 7-8
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 31
Psalms 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
Monday, August 1
Psalms 81:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Tuesday August 2
Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 6cd-7, 12-13
Wednesday, August 3
Numbers 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26a-29a, 34-35
Psalms 106:6-7ab, 13-14, 21-22, 23
Matthew 15: 21-28
Thursday, August 4
Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Friday, August 5
Psalms 77:12-13, 14-15, 16 & 21
Feast of the Transfiguration
Saturday, August 6
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalms 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
2 Peter 1:16-19
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 7
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalms 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here:
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.