Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Peter Iorio
July 25, 2020 – 5:00 PM
July 26, 2020 – 11:00 AM
These are tough times for most everyone. Especially in the land of Jesus where they depend on Christian pilgrims, they are suffering greatly from lack of income. Months ago, before the pandemic broke out, I invited a family business from Bethlehem to come and sell olive wood products here at OLOF. I hope you will go into the social hall after Mass and at least see some amazing carved olive wood with some having inlaid mother of pearl. Pearls are precious and expensive now and from what we hear Jesus say in the Gospel today, pearls must have been a product of great monetary value.
What I find fascinating about natural pearls is how they are formed. It’s a common myth (one that I believed) that grains of sand in an oyster shell are what causes a pearl to start forming naturally. In fact, oysters are typically quite capable of expelling grains of sand that get into their shells. So while it’s a little gross, the truth is that most naturally-occurring pearls are formed around a parasite… some sort of sea-worm or bug that invades the oyster and grabs on and can’t be expelled.
The oyster, irritated by the intruder, forms a pearl sac of external mantle tissue cells and secretes calcium carbonate to cover the irritant. This secretion process is repeated many times, thus producing a pearl.
Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a pearl of great price found by a merchant who sells all that he has to buy it. I will come back to this image as for me, it has layers of implications.
Let’s look at the first reading. In a dream, Solomon, son of the great King David has a dream, and God offers him whatever he wants and it will be given to Solomon. What if God asked the same thing of you? Do you want a healthy family, safety, a bigger home, reconciliation with family members, a loved one to come back from death, a long life, the end of the coronavirus, ??? With the Lord God, there is no limit to what you can have, just like was offered to Solomon.
Shockingly, Solomon wants none of these things. He asks for an understanding heart to judge and to distinguish right from wrong. An understanding heart… more commonly known as the Wisdom of Solomon…is what God praises in Solomon because he asks for a gift to help other people. Solomon had asked for wisdom from the heart. It seems to me that it is something that we must ask for every day. Wisdom of heart is the ability to distinguish between good and bad, between what is eternally true and what is temporary. It is the ability to see the big picture, the whole of life and understand what is of utmost importance. It is like a treasure of great value, hidden in our hearts.
And I think that this great wisdom is contained in Paul’s statement: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, and are called according to His purpose. Often our spiritual task is not just to know it up here in our heads, but to feel it and experience it in our very being. Most often this movement from head to heart comes through life experiences.
I would like to share an experience I read from a man from Portugal: our third child was born with Down syndrome, and I considered this cruelty of nature as a punishment for my marital infidelities. I was ashamed to go around with this child and I carried so many unanswered questions inside me. But as the child grew up, I started to discover beautiful goodness and continual peace in this child. I cannot explain the relationship between this and my problematic faith, but slowly I acquired other eyes and, I would say, another heart too. The relationship in my family changed as well. Strangely enough, I began to believe my child’s condition as a gift. I have no more problems about faith and dogmas; everything is grace. Behind the veil of misunderstanding there is innocent and pure truth.
(D.T. – Portugal)
So something that can be considered bad or an irritant, with the viewpoint and wisdom of God, works for the greater good. In this case, the father of the child with Down Syndrome grew in grace and virtue and it spread throughout his family.
And so it is with Jesus’ image of the pearl: from something that is an irritant originally turns into a precious pearl.
Our neighbor or another family member can be an irritant but it can be that very one who becomes a fine pearl, that is, our passport or entry point into the ‘kingdom of heaven.’
For me, it is another way of praying for the Wisdom of the Cross which expresses a similar truth. In Solomon, we can look ahead to Jesus who ultimately embodied the Wisdom of Solomon by laying down his life in love. There is always a bigger picture. Remember that the story does not end with the irritant. SO if you are fearful or frustrated about someone or something, ask God to give you an understanding or at least a patient heart so that in the fullness of time, you will experience that all things, even what we consider bad, are working together for good.