Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“It’s worth everything, Sam.” I will never forget hearing these words from a priest friend on his ordination day. When a man is ordained to the priesthood, it is customary to ask him for his first priestly blessing. In fact, there is a special indulgence attached to receiving a blessing from a priest in the first year after his ordination! So after an ordination, you will see people lined up waiting for their chance to receive these special blessings. As I knelt before my friend, I was still in seminary, a few years away from my own ordination day. He was so excited and joyful that at the conclusion of the blessing he almost lifted me off the ground to share those encouraging words. To be a priest, even for the hour or so that he had been a priest, was and is, truly, worth everything.
This memory comes to mind as I read this Sunday’s Gospel, for our Lord is making clear the abundant gift that is the kingdom of heaven. The image of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price are strong images that ought to give us pause. Note that our Lord describes someone selling all they have just to buy the field or the pearl. If we break this hyperbole open, we might scratch our heads at first. If I sell everything I have just to buy a pearl, where will I put the pearl? This is exactly the kind of head-scratching Jesus wants us to engage in, so that we can understand more profoundly what it means to be disciples, what it means to choose God in all things. The kingdom of heaven is worth everything.
These strong images are used to demonstrate value. The value of God’s kingdom, that is, the value of being in relationship with God, following Jesus, and the eternal life promised us in heaven is the very highest value that is possible to conceive. There is no material thing worth more. Value implies cost. Our Lord invites us in the Gospel to consider not only the value of the gift, but also to consider what we are willing to give. Note that Jesus does not tell us that we must sell everything – there is no absolute requirement that we follow the lead of the merchant or the treasure hunter. Indeed, in the list of saints of the Church we will find beggars and royalty side by side, both rich and poor alike. Yet when we speak of the saints, we will speak of those who gave everything for the sake of Jesus Christ. We begin to see that there is no price tag on discipleship, yet relationship with God here on earth and in the eternity for which we hope is of the highest value, truly priceless.
It’s worth everything. If this is true, and I firmly believe that it is, then I must ask myself daily if I am willing to give everything. Some days, fortunately, there is no question of what I am willing to give. But other days, I cannot make the same claim. Fortunately, my willingness to give, or the amount of myself I am willing to commit to the kingdom does not diminish the value of the kingdom of heaven. Rather, the more I give of myself, the more I hold fast to the claim that the kingdom of God, relationship with God, the heaven for which I hope, is truly worth everything, the more I see and understand the value, the more I appreciate the gift that Jesus has given when he invites us to enter the kingdom of heaven, to come and follow and to be his disciples.