The Exquisite Jewelled Crucifix

Jerry’s regular trips to the customs office to identify impounded objects were routine and unexciting. As the senior curator in the National Art Gallery, the customs office was to be endured. Jerry, a naturally outgoing person, was on good terms with the customs officers. His alert eyes one day perched on a tiny and exquisite crucifix. At about 6 centimetres tall and three across, the cream colour of its small ivory body drew Jerry’s attention. It was encrusted with gems, and it was the kind of object at which you wanted to look, and look again, and go on gazing.

Jerry learned that the ivory crucifix had arrived with a drug haul from the Middle East, but the customs officials knew nothing else about it. Jerry hurried back to the National Art gallery, rushed to his reference book, and quickly found a photo of the crucifix over an entry headed “The Crusaders’ Cross”. Believed to have been crafted in the 11th Century, or earlier, the Crusaders’ Cross had circulated in the Holy Land and Europe at the time of the Crusades.

It was cursed, said the article, but Jerry quickly discerned that its curse was due to its beauty and value. Whoever owned it was cursed because someone else desperately wanted to get their hands on it too.

And Jerry, realising that the glossy picture in the art reference book only distantly hinted at the compelling beauty of the reality, was determined that he should get the Crusaders’ Cross for himself.

He obtained his Director’s authorisation to find out more. Jerry wrote the usual official letters to the Customs Department and to the Federal Police. He telephoned his contact at Customs and discovered that a Sotheby’s agent had also sighted the crucifix and had informally valued the crucifix at five million dollars.

Jerry knew that if Sotheby’s acquired it, they would, with their clever marketing, auction the piece for seven or eight million. Jerry wanted it first.

He squeezed a five million dollar purchase budget out of the Board, and their commitment to the Crusaders’ Cross as the Gallery’s major acquisition for the year.

Jerry’s abundant energies focused exclusively on this task. A round of enquiries, research, a phone interview with an American philanthropist who owned the crucifix before World War 2 – all failed to steer Jerry any closer.

Two days later, a rather curt phone call came from the Customs Office.

“Just unofficially, we’re letting you know that the cross you were interested in has disappeared. So,” the unidentified voice continued tightly, “has one of our Officers.” The phone was put down.

Jerry was frantic. He called the Director’s secretary. “Book me a flight to Tel Aviv. The first out of the city airport, if you can.” In his desperation, he was playing a dangerous game. The drug gang hailed from Tel Aviv. His only clue.

Surprisingly quickly in a jeweller’s shop in a suburb of Tel Aviv, he located the cross. He negotiated a purchase price of seven million dollars, raising the money on the Gallery’s Swiss bank account, fully aware of the storm this would raise among the Board members. He couldn’t care. He wanted the Crusaders’ Cross.

Then Jerry’s problems magnified.

A death threat from the drug gang.

Shadowy figures from the international art world were following him.

Sotheby’s, with agents everywhere, were trying to trip him up legally or not.

He had a pouch made for the cross to disguise it from airport security screens. He paid – dearly – for false travel documents, and slipped over the border into Jordan.

Using the last of his American dollars in Amman, he paid for his fare home, travelling triumphant. He had made it. He was absolutely elated as he walked into the Gallery, and opened up the travel-pouch. The Crusaders’ Cross was his.

It was a curatorial coup. Jerry could expect to be appointed Director of any world-standard Gallery. But he knew he didn’t want to be. He remained for the rest of his working life Senior Curator where he was, so that every morning, he could come to work and gaze on the Crusaders’ Cross.

He didn’t mind the letters from his wife’s solicitors seeking divorce. His wife and teenage son had been so hurt because they had lost his attention when he began seeking the cross that they could no longer see themselves as the loving family they had been for eighteen years.

He went from being the most popular member of staff at the Gallery to the least liked. His fellow-workers could not understand the change in Jerry. But Jerry ignored them.

Notwithstanding the high cost of acquiring the Crusaders’ Cross – his family, friends, and reputation – Jerry was happy. He had his heart’s desire. His pearl.

*****

The shortest of the parables of Jesus, the parable of the pearl is here, in my translation.

*****

Questions for reflection or group discussion.

What sort of person would seek obsessively for God, as the pearl merchant did?

What have you found of great value in your life? Tell the story of how you found it, or how you found you had it.

Is all religious activity healthy?

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