When my youngest brother was about 5 years old, he followed fresh trenches in plowed fields looking for arrowheads and stone knives. The findings took him from delight in his possessions to curiosity about whose they were and how they came to be there. There is allurement for seekers.
Today’s gospel has Jesus framing images of the kingdom of God to be like a treasure, like a merchant, and like a net. I found myself seeking in these stories. At the end of today’s gospel (long form) Jesus asks: “Do you understand all these things?” “Yes”, they said! I am aware that I often shake my head in an affirmative gesture indicating that I have heard words. But understand? Plenty of layered, curious questions come. What was the treasure? Was it sought after or a surprise? What happened with the field? What happened to the one who owned them both?
What about the merchant who sought pearls? How did that person network in a market? How did the seller come upon the pearl? What does one do with such a pearl?
Who made that cumbersome net to be cast into the sea? Whose were the many hands that hauled and sorted the catch?
I’ve often heard that asking the right question is very important. I thought to ask: “and then what?” at the end of each parable as a story-starter. Maybe, it’s more important to ask: “now what?” Now what about fields, merchants and markets, seas and catches?
Who can buy and own fields now for sustainable harvests? Where are fields available for immigrants to cultivate, many who have sold all they had to relocate to lands of safety and promise? How can lands that have been depleted of resources, doused with chemicals, confused with genetically modified seeds and disrespect for the realities of bioregions be restored? Are there enough community and village gardens and farms that cherish the treasures of common causes, good health and care for Earth as our common home? How do treasures from fields contribute to world food security?
What is a market experience for any of us? Maybe we have been through kiosks and pop-up stands with sellers desperate for any sale, or vendors proud of their cultivated crafts, or simple grocery stores or super-stores chains. Thankfully some markets are still hubs of social interaction, but what relational shifts are happening with web-marketing now! Markets are also those of world stocks, with tentacles in natural resources, communication, transportation, health and welfare. World food security, fair trade, employee safety and benefits, child labor, and discrimination of all kinds are market issues and concerns. How can even small efforts of creative recycling and upcycling become norms that challenge consumer supply and demand? What pearl of great beauty, grown unseen from a tiny irritant, is still somewhere in our midst?
The patience to make a net by hand takes real skill. Precise spacing of connected knots allow that porous and flexible bundle of fiber to be an instrument of gathering and feeding. How many nets are now cast into waters several degrees warmer than just a few years ago? Global warming leaves bleached coral, rising sea levels, and more frequent severe wave action. We humans make countless choices that pollute waters. Creatures of the waters show us impacts of changes – whales, sharks, octopus, migrating schools of fish. Just as no one person can haul a heavy and full net, we, together, need to pay attention, see and sort and do now what is transformative for the gift of life yet evolving.
About 20 years ago I was given a large oyster shell as a gift. On one side there is a seemingly large embedded pearl. Many times I’ve been tempted to have it pried out. What holds me back? When can I commit to seeing unknown outcomes? And you? Like Solomon can we ask God for wise and understanding hearts able to distinguish right from wrong in this now? Now what? What is our dream for One Earth Community?
Maryknoll Sister Janet Hockman, a trained spiritual director, served in the Marshall Islands and in Nepal, offering counseling and leading retreats and prayer groups. She also worked in Haiti and Chicago and in vocation ministry for the Maryknoll Sisters.
Featured image: A marketplace scene reminds viewers of the merchant who discovered the treasure buried in a field and the pearl of great price. (Courtesy of Janet Hockman)