Those of us reared in the country are familiar with how fiercely an old farmer can cling on to his land. Even a miserable patch of grassy bog feels like an insurance against abandonment. But hanging on is not the answer. It only sows bitterness and frustration in sons whose best years are squandered in waiting. Sons who in turn never learn themselves from the mistakes of their fathers. Love alone can guarantee security and care in one’s declining years. Possessions provide only the illusion of security.
Elderly farmers are not the only ones who hold on to things for security. Others have their own holdings from which only death can separate them. It may be property and wealth, status and prestige or power and influence. It may even be an awful lot less, trivial comforts and an easy life. It may be a sixteen-hour day or the thankless responsibility of high office. Or a reputation we can no longer live up to. There is nothing more pathetic than an ageing beauty queen who refuses to accept the ravages of time.
“Ask what you would like me to give you,” God said to Solomon. “Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil,” he replied. It is the kind of gift we all need. Possessions come in many forms. It is not so much these possessions that we should rid ourselves of, as the demon of possession itself that should be exorcised. Poverty has become a dirty word in the world we live in. We should not let an Ethiopian famine or a Rwanda disaster make us forget that poverty is also a Christian virtue. It is no accident that Christ began his Sermon on the Mount with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or that the only condition for his followers is that “they leave all things.” Or that the rich young man should have failed all because he failed this one test, “for he had great possessions.” Or that the pearl in today’s parable could only be bought by “selling everything he owns.”
The trouble with most people is that they want it both ways. All this and the good life too. But they can’t have it both ways.
There is a pearl for everyone. And there is a price for everyone to pay. A price tailored to each individual circumstances. Detachment is that price. To be able to walk away from what we cherish most without so much as looking back with regret. Our tragedy is not that we cannot find the pearl but that we are unwilling to pay the price.