Divine Wisdom: The Pearl of Great Cost
Gospel Reflection for July 30, 2023 - Matthew 13:44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field; a man has found it and hidden it again, and now, for the joy it gives him, is going home to sell all that he has and buy that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is as if a trader were looking for rare pearls:
and now he has found one pearl of great cost, and has sold all that he had and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea, and enclosed fish of every kind at once;
when it was full, the fishermen drew it up, and sat down on the beach, where they stored all that was worth keeping in their buckets, and threw the useless kind away.
So it will be when the world is brought to an end; the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the just,
and will cast them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
Have you grasped all this? Yes, Lord, they said to him.
And he said to them, Every scholar, then, whose learning is of the kingdom of heaven must be like a rich man, who knows how to bring both new and old things out of his treasure-house. (Matthew 13:44-52 Knox Translation)
For this Gospel reading, the other readings we hear today, particularly those from the Old Testament, are particularly helpful in understanding what Our Lord means. In Solomon, we see that the treasure in the field and the pearl of great cost, objects which are found to be worth more than all worldly possessions, is the wisdom of God. Solomon’s desire was not for what the world considers to be the sources of happiness, including a long life, wealth or power, but for that in which true happiness consists: “a heart full of wisdom and discernment”. In a sense, through Solomon, God fulfills and corrects the desire of Adam and Eve, who ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to become like God. While their desire was selfish and disobedient, Solomon desired this wisdom and discernment in order to obey God more perfectly and to lead others closer to Him, and so God granted his desire.
For Solomon, and for God, there is no muddling or graying of good and evil – they are utterly distinct and apart, yet this sinful world, with the confusion of the flesh and the machinations of the devil, try to blend them together, portraying good as evil and evil as good. The wisdom of God, therefore, is clarity of vision, revealing the truth of reality and helping us to fulfill St. Paul’s directive: “And you must not fall in with the manners of this world; there must be an inward change, a remaking of your minds, so that you can satisfy yourselves what is God’s will, the good thing, the desirable thing, the perfect thing.” (Rom 12:2)
But what exactly is the wisdom of God? It can be considered from a human standpoint, in which case there is worldly wisdom, the knowledge and understanding of Creation achieved through human reason, as represented in experience, common sense, the sciences and liberal arts; this wisdom truly comes from God, whose truth is reflected in the logic of Creation as He designed it, and whose Intellect is imaged in human reason: “God’s truth is his wisdom, which commands the whole created order and governs the world. God, who alone made heaven and earth, can alone impart true knowledge of every created thing in relation to himself.” (CCC 216) However, Scripture reveals the deeper reality of divine Wisdom as Christ Himself. (1 Cor 1:24) As the Word of God, Christ personifies perfect understanding of the infinite truth of God, and through His life and teaching, continued in the Church through the Holy Spirit, He imparts this Wisdom to Christians.
Wisdom, therefore, is the essence of salvation: by the knowledge of God given to us through the gift of faith infused at Baptism and taught by Christian doctrine, we are able to know and be conformed to Christ, which St. Paul in the Epistle today says is the ultimate intention of our salvation. By Wisdom, we are divinized into Christ, made into His likeness through knowledge of the truth and the practice of virtue which it engenders; accordingly, Christ commissions all Christians to “go out, making disciples of all nations” primarily by evangelization, spreading the knowledge of the Gospel so that everyone may recognize its Wisdom and be led to the perfection of charity through sacramental grace. (Mt 28:18-20)
How many people today, Christian or not, if given the chance to ask God for any gift they desired, would ask Him for wisdom? When compared to bodily health and pleasure, material wealth, power or fame, what value does wisdom have? Who would echo Solomon, “Or should life’s dearest aim be wealth? Why then, who has more wealth at her disposal than wisdom, that turns all to account?” (Wis 8:5) “Here is counsel, here is instruction, better worth the winning than silver or the finest gold; wisdom is more to be coveted than any jewel; there is no beauty that can be matched with hers.” (Prov 8:10-11) The modern world treats even human wisdom as good only when it is useful. For example, unless one has a degree in technology, business, medicine or something else considered “practical,” one’s degree is described as “useless.” Education itself, from every political angle, is ultimately degraded. It is either emptied of its content by relativism and political correctness or thrown out as a mere tool of social indoctrination and a waste of time and money.
But even then, human education is still more prized than divine Wisdom. How often do we pray for the power to discern good from evil, to know right from wrong in God’s sight and to live accordingly, as did Solomon? Even in the Church today, the lines between good and evil are blurred while Wisdom becomes “taste” and evangelization is called “proselytism.” Out of this despair, Catholics no longer seek to convert others to Christ, seeing such efforts as offensive and intolerant. If all beliefs are equal, then they are all equally meaningless. If good and evil are subjective, then there is no law and no truth; all are free to live as they wish. Even the “standards” of morality today – individual consent and freedom – ultimately lose their ground, as can be seen in the infliction of sexual perversion onto children and the slaughter of the unborn whose value is determined by the arbitrary whim of those who should care for them.
Despite his personal failings, Solomon is a saint whose heroic virtue consists primarily in his imitable love of divine Wisdom and his to desire to live virtuously in accordance with it. As in Our Lord’s parables, this is the treasure which alone brings true happiness and salvation to the world. May the example of Solomon inspire us to pursue Wisdom above all else, recognizing the derivative hollowness of earthly pursuits in comparison to it, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary, who as the Theotokos of the Word is the Seat of Wisdom, the feminine personification of wisdom described in the Old Testament, lead us to imitate her contemplative devotion: “All those who heard it were full of amazement at the story which the shepherds told them; but Mary treasured up all these sayings, and reflected on them in her heart.” (Lk 2:18-19)