We are told of a man….. a merchant by trade, known throughout the ages as one who can spot something of real and lasting value. More than a skill, this merchant appears to have been on a mission, driven to seek the best and the finest. Experience has taught him about quality; he knows it when he sees it, perhaps even when others do not, and he’ll spare no expense to obtain it.
That’s all we know for, in just two short verses and one simple matter-of -act statement found in Matthew 13, we’re told simply that this merchant was compelled to search, gifted enough to know what to seek, and led to find a single pearl of great value. Upon it’s discovery, and recognizing it’s tremendous worth, he sold everything and bought it.
Like other parables from Jesus, this one is ripe with meaning. In the context of the discussion, Jesus has been instructing his disciples on Kingdom matters: value, redemption, growth, purpose and perspective. He’s teaching them what’s important to God and therefore what should be important to them… and those of us who follow. While ultimately, we know this parable is about Christ THE merchant) Jesus explains, the behaviors modeled are for our benefit too:
- God wants us to know HIM and the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
- He desires that we should know His nature and have His image marked upon our souls.
- He wants us to recognize lasting treasure and real value when we see it and to imitate the examples set before us as best as we can— to seek, find and spare no expense to bring our “pearls” into the Kingdom coffers.
You might know that pearls are born over time out of discomfort. A small irritating grain of sand gets lacquered by an oyster (typically), eventually becoming a highly prized gem. That’s a lesson in itself. But Jesus doesn’t focus on the process of how the pearl came to be. Instead he draws our attention to the outcome and the kingdom response to something so precious.
Notice also how Jesus points out this merchant’s success. He was a savvy businessman with plenty of fine pearls already, yet we don’t sense that it was wrong for him to keep on searching. Something deep inside urged him on, knowing there was something more to be found. He surely valued what he had— a collection so beautiful and fine— but that didn’t stop him. Seeking, he found something of greater worth and had no problem selling ALL the rest to make it his own.
“The kingdom of heaven is like _____ ”.
Here, six times in six different ways Jesus expresses the kingdom equation in the simplest terms and the lavish kingdom response that turns our world economy upside down and inside out. This kind of extravagance made little sense then and even less now. Each time Jesus is spelling out further what He’d been teaching about the kingdom earlier in Matthew 6 where basically He says, “Look, your needs are known. Your needs are going to get met. Stop striving to meet your own needs and seek the kingdom first. The kingdom of heaven is like_____ and the treasure is tremendous and all the rest? You’ll be amazed by how those needs are met along the way.” (Some BIG time Lorretta paraphrasin’)
Obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about these things. As one who’s been brought into this kingdom by a judgement value and price set by God alone, it’s humbling enough to make me put on my merchant’s cap and look for others. Depending on where you find yourself today, a variety of ideas may spring to mind as you mentally “fill in the blanks” Jesus (thankfully) left in these parables.
For me, today, it’s a little more plain and real than it was even a year ago. I don’t have to look far to see my collection of “fine pearls”: a solid home, a successful business, a loving community, healthy houseplants! The list goes on. Twenty-eight years of marriage, three grown children and a decent 18-year run at self-employment have provided us with a flexible lifestyle in a place we’ve grown to love. As Christ followers, we’ve been privileged to invest 15 years in our local congregation, cultivating our gifts and talents while raising our family. We are about to be “empty nesters”. We are blessed with good health and mobility.
We are comfortable.
We have enough.
By worldly standards— even by the basic American Christian understanding we are considered “successful” and it would be no big deal to keep on as we are without a hitch.
Except, much like that merchant, we have been led by God to seek the Kingdom’s more. This is why, within the coming year we will sort, sell and moderately store all that we have. It’s why we have begun to tell our business clients that we’ll be stepping away by then (not now!) and why Christmas with our children was so precious this year. It’s all about to change: we have found a pearl of great value and we’re selling (most) everything to purchase it.
Lord knows it’s not easy. In fact, once you set aside all the ridiculously romantic ideals of doing such things, it’s downright terrifying. It should be. It’s also the most peace-filled place we’ve ever been. All we know as we prepare to go is that there is a God who loves us and the world so much that in spite of our sin, He sacrificially made a way for us to know Him and His great love. The kingdom of heaven is like… more than we will ever really understand, more than we will ever really deserve and yet, it’s like… right in front of us at all times and there are others who need to know this too.
As with all such things of great value, there’s sacrifice involved— a constant stream of releasing things to God’s care as we seek first His kingdom with the remainder of our lives and step beyond all that we’ve known to acquire this “pearl”. In pondering these things; the parables, the pearl and the price, I’m beginning to recognize, by God’s grace, that the “pearl” isn’t necessarily a thing, place or position. Ultimately, yes, it’s the prize of the stored up “treasure” we’re promised at the end of time but in practical terms, the pearl of great value is Christ himself and the reward for obedience to God as we live… the “everyday yes” to whatever God has called us— and you— to do.
We are very much in process and the details of how to do such a thing are still a bit hazy. The invitation however, is clear: “Release. Give up everything to secure THAT “pearl”. And all the rest? That will be the icing on the cake. I promise.”