Pearl of Great Value

Pearl of Great Value

ByBishop Erme R. Camba, Bishop Emeritus, United Church of Christ in the Philippines

(Sermon delivered as Speaker of the University Baccalaureate Service on March 20, 2016, Silliman University Church.)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 13: 45-46

Text:”The Kingdom of God 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 13:46, RSV)


My dear Graduating Students, Prof. Liling Briones and members of the Board of Trustees, President Ben Malayang III and Administrators, Faculty and Staff, Beloved Parents: Good Morning. Congratulations all especially the parents, guardians and supporters of the graduating students.


This morning, allow me to speak personally to you dear Graduating Students:

Have you ever collected anything? Many people make collecting a hobby. In a meeting of the Christian Youth Fellowship ages ago, our adviser invited us to his house where he proudly showed a roomful of seashells carefully arranged in glass shelves. One shell has just arrived. It was still wrapped in cotton: one of his rare collections. That was the time I learned that some shells are so rare that it cost Tens of Thousand Pesos.

I assume you are familiar with the parables of Jesus. When Jesus was explaining the Kingdom of God to his followers, he certainly knew about the hobby of collecting. In one of his parables he told the story of the Pearl of Great Value. He said that the Kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. On finding a pearl of great value he sold all he had and bought it.

The merchant was presumably rich. His eyes were trained to spot the difference between imitated pearls and the authentic ones. He knew which ones were rare and costly. He certainly have a personal collection. But he was continuously in the search for the best pearl, the pearl of the highest quality. One day, his trained eyes came upon the most beautiful and most precious pearl. He did not hesitate. He sold the pearls that he had previously acquired. And bought this one pearl of great value!

For our purpose this morning, let me invite you to reflect with me on two ideas: (1) the search for the pearl of a life time, and (2) paying the cost of the pearl of great value.

The Search for the Pearl of a Life Time

On this Graduation Day, you are on the threshold of a new venture in life. As you move into your new situation let me ask a personal question: Are you searching for the “pearl of great value, a pearl of a life time?”

You are the only one who will be able to answer this question. Your future may depend on

your answer today. You know, of course, that the question is related to what has been asked time and again: after graduation, what? Or, Is there life after the university? Certainly, there is something waiting for each one of you after graduation. But what is it?

Most students strive for higher education in order to have a better opportunity to seek employment; get a good salary to adequately support their families and have comfortable homes. Having an education puts you on a rare privilege to seek better things in life. It is a fact that people seek higher and higher positions, get into the limelight of society, leave a name in history. Who would not want to be a Chief Executive Officer of a big business firm, or the President of a prestigious university, or even become the President of the Philippines. If an actor and a college drop out can become President of the Philippine, why not a graduate of Silliman University.

There is nothing wrong with all these dreams. We must plan for our future. But what are we looking for. What should we be seeking after? What are the things of higher value? What is it? Is it the ability to earn money? All people seek for money. But people seek for more and more that they fall in the trap of graft and corruption. Just read the headlines of our dailies. There seem to be no end to graft and corruption in our country. Why are many people spending millions of pesos, or billions of pesos to run for government positions that pay very low salaries?

You know that the cravings of human beings never end. A person is never satisfied with what he or she possesses. I hope you do not fall in this trap. For the pearl of great value is what you and I should seek for.

What is this pearl of great value? The Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines may be of help. The original version reads in part:

“The Kingdom of God is present where faith in Jesus Christ is shared, where healing is given to the sick, where food is given to the hungry, where light is given to the blind, where liberty is given to the captive and oppressed, where love, justice and peace prevail.”

This passage came from Isaiah 61:1-2 as read by Jesus of Nazareth in the synagogue at the

start of his messianic career. Luke 4:18-19 reports that after Jesus finished reading, he said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled it in your hearing.”Having studied the life of Jesus in your New Testament class, you know that Jesus lived according to this pearl of great value.

I am happy for you for your choice of a career. Be what your talent will bring you. Do the best you can to reach the peak of your career. But remember that the “pearl of great value” is not in mere having a lucrative profession or “hanapbuhay” The question you must ask is whether the profession you have chosen will bring about love, justice and peace in the world.

History is replete of stories of people who sought and found their own pearl of great value. You only have to look again in your books on history, literature, science, philosophy, religion for the names of people who left legacies of love, justice and peace in the world.

I am happy that Silliman University has honored Senator Jovito Salonga with the Salonga Law Center. Our dear friend Jovy left to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines is the inclusion in our church constitution the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other agreements such as the international covenants on economic, social and cultural rights and on civil and political rights… (as well as) all those related to refugees, women, youth, children, minority groups and all other persons who cannot safeguard their rights. These are the values he lived for.

Ceres Doyo says there is something in the former senate president, lawyer par excellence, teacher, human-rights advocate and nationalist that explains why he is what he is. Senator Salonga revealed this himself in his response after receiving the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 2007. Salonga said: “(W)hat separates me from other political leaders is not known to many people here in the Philippines. It is the fact that I do not separate my religion from my political beliefs and from public service. As Mahatma Gandhi, the great teacher of peace and non-violence in a non-Christian nation, said many years ago, “Those who say that politics and religion do not mix do not know the meaning of religion.” To paraphrase his words: one’s religious faith and spiritual beliefs must bear fruit in service of others. Such is Salonga’s pearl of great value in his politician’s career, the fruits of spiritual faith.

You don’t need to be a St. Francis of Assisi, a Schweitzer, a Rizal, a Tanada, or a Salonga. You do not need to be on the top decision making body in the Philippines to serve the people.

When I was General Secretary of the United Church, a very young medical doctor was introduced to me. When I met her months later she was in the company of community health workers in training. These people were Tribal Filipinos from the Cordilleras. This young doctor was their trainor. I asked her about coming back to the city for her residency. She looked at me and in a rather queer and innocent way, said: “I’m sorry Bishop, I decided to stay with these people until you find another doctor to take my place.”

That was a tall order. For it was next to impossible to get another doctor to go to that “godforsaken” place where doctors fees are paid in camote or cassava and chicken or a peso or two for a token cash. Of course, a volunteer doctor will receive big thankful smiles from the patients and the priceless pearl of serving the poorest among the Filipino poor.

I have seen that place. It takes some 24 hours to reach by bus and jeepney from Manila.

There were no roads there at that time. Our young doctor walked from barangay to barangay. It is a beautiful place where you would want to go for excursions and picnics. It is a place where medical professionals romanticize about serving the people in short sporadic medical missions. But it is a place a professional would not want to stay even for a year specially those who are used to town and city life and where doctors are in white uniforms in white-painted hospitals with all the necessary medical equipment that only the rich can avail of.

At that time, if you met this young doctor, you would not be able to distinguish her from the people. For she spoke their language and she dressed like them. The people just loved her. This doctor has found for herself the pearl of great value that she would rather stay for some more years until another doctor volunteered to take her place.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, a teacher told us a story I can never forget. You have certainly heard this story before, but let me re-tell it for our purpose this morning.

A young man was lost in a forest. Getting tired of walking, he saw a cave and went in to take a rest. Suddenly, the entrance of the cave closed. It was very dark inside. He groped around for the entrance. He got deeper and deeper into the cave as he stumbled on pieces of stones. Then he heard a voice: “Pick up so you will not regret.” He thought his fear was getting into him that he was starting to hear voices. And so he moved on. Again, the voice said: “Pick up and you will not regret.” Walking further, he again heard the voice, this time with insistence: “Pick up or you will regret!” Reluctantly, he bent down, pick a handful of pebbles and put them in his pocket. Just then he saw a glimmer of light in far distance. He followed the light and finally found himself out of the cave. Then he remembered the voice. He dipped into his pocket to see what he picked up and to his great surprise they were glittering nuggets of gold. He turned around to go back to the cave. There was no opening on the mountainside.

I hope that when you leave the halls of Silliman University to roam the world both near and far, you will not regret for not picking up the values of a life time.

Let me now move on to my second and final point:

Paying the Price of the Pearl of Great Value

Finding the pearl is no accident. The man in the parable of Jesus did not start out to look for something that did not exist. He has a strong belief that somehow there is that pearl of great value. God does not disappoint sincere searchers. If we dili-gently keep up the search, we will be surprised to find that pearl of a lifetime.

The merchant was almost surprised when he saw the pearl. When you read the second sentence of the two short verses of the parable you can feel it in the rapid action: “On finding one pearl of great value [he] went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

We are speaking here about finding meaning in whatever career you have and putting great value to that career by making it useful and meaningful in the service of fellow human beings. Reaching for such valuable and meaningful career in life is not an easy task. At a time of the high cost of education, this is literally true. You know very well that Silliman University education like many other private universities cost you and your parents a fortune.

However, it is not only the cost in terms of money that is our concern. You are supposed to burn the proverbial midnight candle. For achievement has a great price. You ask any doctor of medicine and you will be told that a medical student spends many long years of study with volumes and volumes of books to read and papers and exams to write. Hundreds of sleepless nights are spent with hardly enough time to eat and very little time for recreation and other personal needs. I know for I watched my daughter go through those difficult but wonderful years to become a doctor.

The cost of the “pearl of great value” is certainly high. Francis of Asissi left the life of ease in his rich family to embark in a career of service, Jose Rizal returned to serve our country and paid with his life. Senators Salonga and Tanada and many others chose the value of freedom from dictatorship, and end up in jail; Ninoy Aquino opted to return to work for the great value of democracy against one man rule and paid with his life at the tarmac in Manila International Airport.

The search for meaningful life in the service to our people must be a continuing quest. Being young gives you the opportunity and vigor to continue searching for the most meaningful way of professional life. This I would call your own continuing search for the “pearl of great value.” It is time to start your search if you have not yet done so. And as you go along, “pick up so you do not regret.”

Do not, however, miss any opportunity to be of service to our people. This is of utmost importance. It is election time. I have not yet heard any candidate for the national offices who does not promise to serve the people. I am sure none of you will say you will not serve our people. But I also know that many students look forward to find work abroad since thousands will be competing for the limited number of jobs. So join the OFWs. Serve the people of other countries. Anyway being an engineer, a doctor or nurse or a care-giver abroad is also serving the people many people would say.

Nonetheless, I wish you to stay. You are needed by our people. Staying in the Philippines to serve our people will certainly be a sacrifice, a costly decision in terms of so-called opportunities to make money abroad. But serving our own people is the cost you pay for a pearl of great value. The decision is yours my dear friends.

Whatever is your decision, wherever you may roam let the Christian values of love, justice, honesty, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and excellence in service that you “picked up” from Silliman University be the pearl of great value to guide you in your career. I pray that you will have the will and tenacity to search your own place where God has called you to serve.

Congratulations. God bless you in your continuing search for the pearl of great value.