Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’”
A rich young man asked Jesus, “What must I do to possess eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” The young man went away sad because he was very wealthy. The sadness of Jesus must have been even greater. It may well have been this incident that brought today’s parables to birth in the mind of Jesus. (It is true that the incident is recounted later in the gospel (chapter 19), but then the gospels are not strictly chronological accounts.)
Have you ever met an immensely wealthy man who was culturally impoverished? He has everything and yet he has nothing. He can enjoy his meals, but he can only eat as much as a poor man (or less); and just like anyone he doesn’t dare drink too much. Books, theatres, museums, exhibitions… are all closed to him. Other countries, to him, are just poor places; historical buildings are only old houses; landscapes are just real estate; other cultures only examples of inefficiency. What is there to do? All he can do is make more money – which must be boring, since he already has too much. He can travel to exotic places, but he has to bring his dull self with him everywhere, which guarantees that everything will remain closed to him.
That is only cultural impoverishment. Imagine spiritual impoverishment. No opening, no direction, no meaning, no value except possession; time, to such a man, is an unbearable burden, except when it is money or pleasure; other people are either clients or competitors in the market; and he himself… he prefers not to think about that. Finding such a life unbearable, such people are sometimes apt to embrace an extreme right-wing version of religion, to mask their spiritual impoverishment. It takes on all the shallowness and harshness of their own inner life.
There is no account in the gospels of the subsequent career of the rich young man; he is never mentioned again. Not being open to the gift, he got only what he paid for. Jesus said about the rich, “they have had their reward.”
Carl Jung famously said that in his entire career as a psychoanalyst he had never met a person over forty whose fundamental problem was not religious. The “pearl of great price” is there within our grasp, it is being held out to us free of charge. It is free, but to take it we have to have empty hands.