Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with the LORD.
Jesus said to his disciples,"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."
At key points in our life, and certainly at the hour of our death, we must exchange all we own for the pearl of great price. While today's gospel clearly calls for radical choice, the text of Exodus illustrates the price paid for loyal service of the Lord. Moses is the rugged warrior towards the end of a life full of conflict. After intimate conversation with the Lord, Moses already has a foretaste of heaven so that "the skin of his face has become radiant." The peace and strength, compassion and wisdom of God shone from the eyes and countenance of this "man of God."
Such brightness was too much for the Israelites. They backed away so that Moses had to call to them from a distance and even began to wear a veil over his face. Most of us do not want God too close as this, one who continually calls us to peace and forgiveness with our neighbour, to strength and fidelity with moral principles, to compassion towards those who harm us, day by day. Yet, when important decisions were pending, the people were anxious for God's guidance. We too are grateful for the saintly people who force us to put our life and its many demands into a healthy perspective wherein we are led to esteem most of all this "one really valuable pearl."
In seeking the pearl of great price there may be times when the struggle is not against what is evil or immoral, but is caused by the betrayal of friends or feeling abandoned even by God. In those circumstances we need a lot of faith to believe that, like the merchant in search of that pearl, it really is there to be found.
In two short parables (today's gospel) two people find something of real value, a box of treasure in the first, and a pearl of great price in the second. How they come upon these two valuable objects is quite different. The first comes across the treasure by accident. He wasn't looking for it. He was a day labourer digging in someone else's farm, and the last thing he expected to find was a box of treasures buried in the field. In the second parable the merchant was actively searching for fine pearls and eventually, as a result of persistent searching, came across one pearl of great value which stood out above all the rest.
Both parables are images of the kingdom of God. Both suggest that our relationship with God through Jesus is a treasure greater than any earthly treasure. The first parable suggests that this treasured relationship comes to us as a grace. We can be surprised by God's gracious initiative towards us; God is with us, hidden beneath the surface of our lives, and can break through to us when we are least expecting it. The second parable highlights the importance of the human search in coming to know God. It is those who seek who will find; it is those who knock who will have the door opened. We can be, and will be, surprised by Lord's initiative towards us, and, yet, we are also called to seek the Lord with all our hearts and minds and souls. [MH]