gaining the pearl of great cost
My Dear One,
They say the first step is the hardest one to take. I have found, however, that sometimes it is easier to start something than it is to finish it.
Having come face to face with the dragon at The Ordeal, we might well find that it is not the dragon’s scales which must be pierced but rather the scales upon our own eyes that we might see clearly for the first time. We are like the biblical figure of Saul, who became Paul the great evangelist of the New Testament.
Saul had been seeking to slay all those who “belonged to The Way,” the ones who believed in Jesus whom he had made into his great enemy. Saul believed he was a holy crusader out to track down the corrupted ones who must be extinguished for the sake of the “purity” of his community. But on the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to Saul who for the first time is faced with the truth, that it wasn’t Jesus but he who had become the dragon “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Saul’s way of seeing the entire world is upended and he loses his sight for three days, unable to eat or drink.
God then speaks to a follower of The Way named Ananias and calls him to find Saul and offer mercy to the one who had come at first to get him (as Jesus had to Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane).
So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Acts 9:17-19
Having faced down our own dragon, and being allowed to pass, we now have a clear path to grasping The Reward. The only question before us is, will we see clearly enough to recognize it?
Movie Example: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Indiana Jones, the adventurous archeologist, is in a race against the Nazis to find the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus drank from at the Last Supper. This cup, the legend goes, will give the one who drinks from it eternal life.
In order to get to the chamber which contains the grail, they must first decipher a code which reveals the only safe route. The Nazi commander shoots Indiana’s father, forcing him to decipher the route and find the grail before his father dies. But the commander follows Indiana and seizes the opportunity to drink from the grail first, which is guarded by a knight of old. However there are many grails to choose from and the commander falls prey to the thinking that it would be the most magnificent one, gold plated and jewel encrusted, fit for “the King above all kings.” His interpretation of the nature of Jesus’ kingship, as one of wealth and privilege, is instead a reflection of his own corrupt notion of greatness. Upon drinking from the wrong cup, he decays at once and dies.
Indiana knows Jesus would not have had a cup of great wealth, but rather a simple “carpenter’s cup” and chooses the plainest of the grails. Having chosen wisely, he returns to his father just in time. With a sip upon his lips and the rest poured out upon his wound, Indiana’s father revives. After an entire movie of chasing his goal for another reason, in the end the reward Indiana sought was not for glory against an enemy or for immortality but for his own father’s survival.
You can watch the entire scene here:
Biblical Example: Jesus crucified at Golgotha
Jesus too had a cup to drink from, one he had asked God be allowed to pass from him. This cup did not produce life for him but death. And we do not usually think of death as a reward. Indeed, for Jesus it was not. But it is what he got for having lived in a way so counter to the other ways the religious and political powers upheld. His alternate Way posed a dangerously subversive threat to the ways of Pilate the governor, Caiaphas the high priest, and Caesar the Roman Emperor. Jesus’ death upends our notion that the good guy always wins. His death, in and of itself, was a tragedy and squarely places Jesus among all those who have been unjustly persecuted, suffered and killed for standing up for truth, justice and peace. His friends desert him. He is forced to die a humiliating and excruciating death. Friday must be allowed to stand as its own day and not as just some footnote precursor to Sunday. To do so would be to minimize the true price Jesus pays for the sake of life in the true kingdom, the kingdom of God.
How then can we conceive of crucifixion as Jesus’ “reward.” Only in the same way we can bear to call this a “Good” Friday. Sometimes, our commitment to living a true life will require our death. That death may not seem like salvation to us but it can be for countless others because of us. One of the ways early Christianity spread was because of the inspiration of the Christian martyrs, those willing to die rather than renounce their faith in the life-giving Way.
Our faith tells us that others who may appear to live well are already dead, but for those who follow The Way, even death leads to eternal life.
“but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:14
What is it that you truly seek? Having come face to face with your dragon, is anything clarified? Having tasted of death, is it any clearer what’s worth living for?
It is difficult to write about this in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, something few of us saw coming when I began writing this series back in January. Since then, death has become strikingly less metaphorical and the living of life has become much more perilous. We are all living under the shadow of death, perhaps our own or perhaps the death of ones we know and love. Many who come face to face with death through accident or illness recount such times as being deeply clarifying. Perhaps what is before us in the midst of this pain and death is an opportunity for a communal clarification of what it is we truly seek. It certainly seems as if we’d lost our way. Now would be a good time to gain clarity again about life’s true rewards.
Let it become real for us all today. There is little time to waste, even if we have another 50 years of living ahead. Some things are worth everything and when we find such things, it is worth our efforts to attain it.
Where is the love of God present in your life? What does liberation look like for you? If we choose our cups wisely, what is it we hope to attain? If it is the kingdom of God/heaven, as Jesus calls it, then it is worth the price even if the price requires something (or everything) about us to die.
Jesus said, “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.” Matthew 13:44-46
Your Journey this week
Self-quarantining has ironically forced us all within our caves. Use this as a time to face your fears, make peace with your dragons, and bring reconciliation and healing to the warring factions within your soul. Take the time you need to choose your cup wisely. When we emerge from these caves again, life will inevitably be different. We will not walk back into the world as it has been. What do we choose to take from this time and bring into this new world? Is it liberation for you alone or, as it is for the heroes of religion and folktale, will it bring liberation for others as well?
If you need to talk, I’m here to listen.
following The Way,