Some time ago, a magazine ran a story about a teenager who belongs to the Santa Clara swimming club. Every morning she gets up at 5:30 a.m. to hurry to an outdoor pool for two solid hours of swimming, after which, she goes to school. After school, she returns to the pool to swim for two more hours. At 5 p.m., she hurries home to do homework. She goes to bed exhausted and waits for the alarm to ring at 5 a.m. to start it all over again. When asked why she follows such a disciplined schedule, she said, “My goal is to make the Olympic team. I will give up going to parties; I will give up staying up late. Anything for an Olympic gold medal.”
Had Jesus lived now rather than in A.D.30, today’s Gospel might have been very different. Rather than talk about a pearl merchant who sacrificed all to buy a dream pearl, or a farmer who sold all to buy a field with treasure in it, Jesus might have talked about a Santa Clara swimmer, who sacrificed all to make the Olympic team.
Why do I say this? What connection is there between a pearl merchant, a treasure seeker and a Santa Clara swimmer? What do these three people have in common? The one thing they have in common is their total commitment to a dream. All three are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal they have set for themselves. This leads us to the point Jesus wishes to make for us in today’s Gospel: Citizenship in God’s Kingdom involves total commitment on our part. We cannot pursue it as we do a part-time job. It cannot just be a hobby.
Being a Christian is like being a pearl merchant, a treasure seeker or a Santa Clara swimmer. It involves total dedication and commitment. But, there is one big difference between a Christian and the other three. St. Paul refers to it in a letter to the Corinthians. Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last.
But, Christians do it for one that will last forever. You see, the pearl merchant’s prize, the farmer’s treasure and the swimmer’s medal are all perishable. At the moment of death, there is only one thing that counts.
The only thing that will matter is what we have become in the process of trying to seek the pearl, acquire the treasure or win the medal. What has the pursuit of these things done to us? How have they affected our daily life?
Ultimately, whatever is yours, save for sin, is God’s gift to you, even if it stems from your own fantastic talent. That talent itself owes its origin to God. But, a gift of God is not given to be clutched, it is given to be given.
Each of you is a gifted person. Gifted in more ways, perhaps, than your modesty will admit. What Jesus tells us time and time again is use your gifts as He invites or commands you to use them.
To some, He may say, “Give all you have to the poor and come follow me.” To others, He says, “Share what you possess, use it for those around you, employ your power for peace.”
Today’s Gospel makes an important point: Nothing in the world may take priority over God’s Kingdom and our pursuit of it. Today’s Gospel tells us that what counts when we die is not what we have acquired in life. But, what we have become.
Did we learn to love one another? Did we learn to forgive one another? Did we learn to help the needy? Did we learn to encourage the fainthearted? Did we learn to become more committed and loyal to God and to one another?
One thing I can promise you is that rarely in your life will you experience such profound joy as when, because of you, a smile is born on a crucified face. And you realize that all people, no matter what they have done or who they are in God’s eyes, they are all pearls of great price.
Remember your most precious possession is yourself, give it away lavishly.