“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.” Matthew 13: 45-46
One thing that has always baffled me about the Gospels is Jesus’ analogies using money or wealth… doesn’t He know us inside and out? Every hair on our head counted and such? We tend to be a hot mess when it comes to money. In a country where one third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy and the average family has over $8,000 in credit card debt, Jesus’ words may be falling on deaf ears and empty pockets.
Price tag for one pearl of great price? All that we have.
Most of us are waiting on the sale.
“Dear Jesus, I reeeeeally want that pearl, but I just don’t think I can afford it right now…”
Selling ALL that we have seems too much. I don’t want to give away my comforts. My bad habits. My attachments. My addictions. My need to be right. My Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. But, Jesus, orange really is the new black this season! My grudges. My unforgiveness. My mirror. My self-loathing. My withholding of love. My dysfunctional relationship. My perfectionism. My other dysfunctional relationship. My freedom. My control. My ability to decide for myself. My selfie-stick. My facebook account. My vision for My life. Mine. Mine. Mine. I don’t want to.
And we know that everything is what He is asking for… because everything is what He gave. And everything is what Mary gave. And everything is what Joseph gave. And everything is what Anne and Joachim, and the apostles, and the martyrs, and the saints, and all holy men and women gave.
So we avoid the checkout line.
We look for a shortcut, a five-finger discount. We wait for a better deal. Or sometimes we don’t even go to the store.
We don’t go to the Lord in prayer because we are scared of what He may ask of us. Because we’ve read the book… we know how the story ends. Lots of blood. Lots of weeping women. We have no urgency to get into the checkout line numbered “crucifixion” or “patience” or “end that relationship” or “trust” or “not yet.” We are comfortable–comforted by our comforts. We want sainthood without the martyrdom. Detachment without the sacrifice. Peace without the justice. We want the sale price.
Like any good sale at Nordstrom (buy-the-whole) Rack, we delude ourselves into thinking that paying less is not ultimately costing us more. Studies have shown (and a good merchant also knows this), we tend to lose in the long run when we shop the sale rack. We think we’re getting such a great deal that we often don’t realize we’re spending money we never would have spent out of our budget. And if shopping the sale rack isn’t good for our financial lives…
What happens when shop the sale rack in our spiritual lives?
We let the sticker shock of the pearl of great price scare us away from the Kingdom of Heaven–our true inheritance! Our ultimate destiny! That for which we were created! Union with God! Instead, we buy a knockoff white piece of plastic… Jammy Chows. Hermess. Gukki. Dolday Ganana. Kite Spride.
We do this when we run away from Jesus. When we avoid facing reality. When we give in to laziness and stop praying. Or we give in to fear and stop praying. Or we give in to the shame and stop praying. Or we give in to the anger and stop praying. It is amazing how easily we delude ourselves into thinking, “If I just don’t pray, then God can’t tell me anything I don’t want to hear…” or “I don’t like God’s timing, or God’s answers, or God’s silence… so I’m just going to quit talking to Him. That’ll show Him.” We fall into our patterns of unholy self-reliance, sin, and despair…. Which leads us to shame… which makes it even LESS likely that we will return to prayer without needing to hit some rock bottom. All because the price tag seems too high.
Everything Must Go!
So how do we begin the process? How do we get ourselves more okay with selling out for the Kingdom of God? How do we prepare our pockets to be emptied for the right item? For the only item that should be in our Amazon cart? Attention, shoppers… here are a few suggestions:
- Gratitude. Life has its ups and downs. We have all witnessed some great suffering and some great celebrations, but taking the time to really reflect on all that we do have, makes it easier to forget all that we don’t. Maybe God didn’t answer this prayer or that in the way I wanted or expected, but look at all of the good I do have. Do I see all the good as gift? As pure gratuity? Would I be able to live without said good? Do I love Jesus enough that this particular good could be taken away from me? And I would still love Jesus? Am I just grateful that I experienced that good at all?
- Read the Lives of the Saints. The Saints experienced incredible suffering and sometimes incredible spiritual phenomena. The stories of their lives written by others, their own autobiographical writing, and their own spiritual reflections can offer us great comfort and hope in the place of those comforts and hopes we’re being asked to give up. Coughing up a lung from TB or watching all of your friends get martyred gives a person perspective. Read the stories of these holy men and women.
- Ask Your Friends who are Spiritual Big-Spenders. Some of our friends are doing it right! They are making the sacrifices in their schedule, in their choices, in their lives… they are giving up vices and adopting virtue. They are living out with their lives the faith they are proclaiming with their mouths! Ask how they do it… how do they find time for prayer? How do they commit to discipline? To a routine? How did they give up Pornography? Drinking? Social Media? Gossip? Time-wasting? Bingeing of any and all kinds? Asking for the help of a friend makes us uncomfortable… it makes us vulnerable… it means we have to admit we don’t know it all. Take the leap. Phone-a-Friend.
- Indulge in the sacraments. SALE ALERT! The sacraments are free… they may just cost you a little pride in the Confession line. The sacraments bring us back in right relationship with the Lord… they re-center our hearts on Jesus. When our hearts are in the right place, detaching from all the things that keep us from the Kingdom of Heaven becomes much easier. We’re more likely to consider paying full price.
- Fasting. Fasting. Fasting. In addition to the healthy physical benefits that can come from fasting, we grow spiritually as well. Discipline applied to the body cannot help but affect the soul–as we are a body/soul unity. Our ability to forgo small comforts strengthens our spiritual muscles to withstand other temptations, helping us to empty our pockets for that pearl of great price!