Homily: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

It has always intrigued me as to why pearls are so beloved, especially by women. Yes, I appreciate their loveliness, but that doesn’t account for the way in which a gift of a necklace of pearls will win over a person’s heart. Poems have been written of their beauty, and operas have been composed of their alluring powers. Pearls are in a league of their own when it comes to that which delights the beholder.

Perhaps it has something to do with where they come from, and what creates them. The humble oyster is hardly a thing of loveliness. All jagged on the outside, with a slimy (though very tasty!) little creature on the inside, oysters are far removed from what is appealing. Yet, within it can be hidden something quite unexpected. The hidden gem, the pearl of great price, is itself a miracle. It starts its existence as a grit of sand, an irritation of dirt, which has made its way inside the shell, threatening the living oyster. To defend itself, the oyster covers this foreign body with layers of a translucent membrane that hardens around the threat, and so a pearl is born.

Why would Jesus make such a significant thing of comparing a pearl to the Kingdom of God? In part, we can readily perceive that Jesus might want to present God’s kingdom as a thing of great beauty and value. Indeed, it is of the utmost worth and loveliness, for God’s kingdom is the fullness of life. But this is not something that is self-made; this kingdom is not made in our own image and likeness, nor can we manufacture it from our own means. God’s Kingdom of life and truth and love is, rather, for us to discover. This is what the merchant did in the parable: he searches until he discovers the pearl of great price.

We, too, are invited by Jesus to discover God’s Kingdom within and among us, by searching for it. This discovery involves the humility to look for what is truly beautiful that lies hidden amid what appears unattractive; and the wisdom to recognise its value. The grit of sand that lies at the heart of each pearl cannot be dispensed with, otherwise there would be no pearl to delight in.

I like to think of that grit, in terms of the Kingdom of God, as my sin, which the sacrificial love of Jesus has coated over and over with untold layers of his forgiveness. As I come to humbly search for what is lovely amid my sinfulness and human frailties, God comes to transform me into an image of his Son. As always, St Paul seems to have just the right words to describe what’s going on in our search for the pearl of great price. As he says (in the second reading): “We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him… and [shares with them] his glory.” (Rm 8.28,30) In our searching we are discovered; our seeming ugliness is transfigured into something beautiful for God.

At the heart of God’s kingdom is that which has need of being transfigured into the image of his Son: from what is violent into what makes for reconciliation; from what is corrupt into the work of integrity; from the desires of vice into the practices of virtue; from prideful indifference into humble mercy.

God is an oyster, who knows how to transfigure. Might we undertake the search for that oyster, which leads to the discovery of the pearl within.