Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Pearl

Today we get a repeat of the Sunday gospel regarding treasure and the pearl of great price. The more I reflect on it the more fascinating I find the image of the pearl.

The man in the story is willing to sell all that he has to buy this one great pearl, but why? There is no implication that he intends to resell it. Instead it seems that what drives him is a passion for the beauty of the pearl. This lead to another question though, from whence comes its value?

If you think about it objectively what is it that makes a pearl so valuable? Chemically it's mostly calcium carbon and oxygen, not all that different from a kidney stone. It has no special function or purpose. It doesn't do anything.
It is a kind of accident of nature. And yet at some point thousands of years ago someone looked at it and saw an intrinsic beauty, and that beauty gave it a value. As the idea of the beauty spread around the world from culture to culture the value increased.

It strikes me that as our culture becomes more and more utilitarian, the pearl in danger of loosing its value is human life. Like the pearl, the elements that make up the human body are nothing special, mostly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The frightening difference between humans and pearls is that we seem to be loosing sight of the intrinsic beauty and value of the human being. The value of a human life is being measured by what it can do, how it can contribute to society. The very old, the very disabled, and the very young are devalued, even in their own minds because of the messages they have received that their value is tied to their productivity.

Somewhere thousands of years ago, the first person who saw the intrinsic beauty of a pearl was able to convince others of that value, and they were able to spread that belief around the world, and that belief endures to this day.

As people of faith we must see the intrinsic beauty and value in every human life, and work to spread that belief around the world. Even as you read this there are places around the world, and right here in the U.S., where human beings are being sold, and for a lot less than the price of a pearl. And even sadder is the fact that few people seem to notice or care.

What is the value of a human life?