Off the shores of the Philippines, a fisherman discovered a very large, misshapen pearl. It was not pretty. It looked more like an amoeba, with blobs and folds everywhere. He took the unusual find home and stowed it under his bed. When he moved ten years later, he gave it to one of his relatives for safe keeping. The relative was part of the local tourism office. The 75 lb.-170,000 carat pearl is on display in the city hall of Puerto Princesa. It happens to be the world’s largest pearl, with an estimated worth of roughly $100 million.
It’s easy to miss the value of something when it bears no resemblance to what we were expecting. Scripture tells us that the good news of the kingdom is like a priceless pearl (Matt. 13:45). But what if it doesn’t look like any pearl we’ve ever seen?
In today’s gospel, the “pearl of greatest price” in the person of Jesus returns to his native place and teaches in the local synagogue. His reception was, shall we say, tepid, degrading to outright coolness. Jesus didn’t “look like” a Messiah, he looked like the kid that grew up in the neighborhood. People were shocked that this man they had known since childhood had the audacity to say the things he did, as if he had the authority and credentials to do so. It was offensive.
That reception impacted Christ’s work outside the synagogue: He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And He was amazed at their lack of faith.
It’s a little jarring to read that Jesus was unable to perform any miracles that day. What happened? At face value, it sounds as if the people’s lack of faith was his “kryptonite”, as if it weakened Him or robbed Him of his divine power – as if the divine power relied upon our faith. So, the power was there, but stop for a moment and consider the purpose of miracles. I would suggest that at their core, miracles are meant to reveal God’s glory and God’s self to an open-hearted people.
“But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance.” (Luke 8:15) The miracles of Jesus were to bear witness to his identity as the Son of God, but the people in Nazareth had already rejected Him, opting to identify Him as the kid they grew up with.
We are created with the gift of agency and choice, gifts that are intrinsic to we who were created in the image of the Creator. The manner in which those gifts are used – that is determined by the condition of one’s heart.
There is an expression: “God proposes, man disposes.” With a hostile disposition not even, the proposal will be received and get a fair hearing. So, Jesus chose to limit his activity among them. There was no need to force feed the truth.
I think there are far more “divine pearls” in our life than we realize. But what if it doesn’t look like any pearl we’ve ever seen before? Hence the need for a generous and good heart.