The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46, NIV
This past week one of my sons left the water running all morning long. The result was a burned up pump in our well and no water for two days. It’s a miserable way to live! Water is essential for our lives, and we really don’t appreciate it enough until we don’t have it!
The same day we lost the water, I let the dachshunds and wolf cub outside for a few minutes, and before I knew it the wolf cub was gone. For the next hour and a half I could think of nothing else but trying to find her. I could not eat, work or go about my routine. I was so angry at myself and that little white wolf. But then, she came back and I realized how easily my life can turned upside down because of the loss of something—-or someone—that I love.
And then, that night, I woke up to two tick bites. It’s not the end of the world to be bit by a tick, but it could be the end of my life or it could dramatically change my life. They carry debilitating and even deadly diseases. I had to pause and consider my mortality.
These three things ALL happened over a two day period. I am reminded that everything around me is working towards my destruction—not my immortality. I need water, food, shelter, good health, and I crave companionship and love—even from my pets.
I also know something that my younger sons do not yet grasp: If I don’t work, my family won’t, my ministry at the camp will cease…we simply could not continue to live as we do. It’s a burden to have to work—-and yet, that’s God’s temporal plan for me and for all mankind, and to stay alive long enough to be sure my family is prepared to take over when I am gone.
But this parable puts caring for our pets, having fresh water and even our personal health in perspective. The truth is, our pets are going to disappear or die one day. Nothing we can do will stop it. Wells are going to go dry, floods are going happen, and eventually, if a tick does not kill us, cancer, a heart attack or disease will. The question to ask ourselves, the only one that really matters is this: where will I go when I die? And more to the point, if there is an afterlife, does what I do in this life affect when I will spend eternity in the next?
The whole parable pushes us to consider the single most important thing in the universe—the Kingdom of God. This surpasses EVERYTHING ELSE! Here is this immeasurable prize, the perfect place where there’s no worry, sorrow, death, disease, depression, et al, eternally! And Jesus is telling a story about “investment”—in the best, most precious, most valuable thing that exists—eternity with the the Divine Being that knows the number of hairs on our heads and wants to wipe every year from our eyes and bless us beyond imagination. Wouldn’t you want to make such a purchase and acquire such a treasure?
And yet, a lot of folks don’t give this investment even a consideration. Jesus warned: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-7, KJV).
His point in this parable is that this pearl, which represents eternity with God, is worth the cost of everything we have in this life. The pearl merchant isn't giving away his possessions for no reason; in fact, he's drastically increasing his wealth. Imagine investing a mere 80 or 90 years to reap an investment of billions and billions of years! That’s the analogy. The kingdom of God is God’s presence forever, of course, but also everything you could ever hunger for, forever. What fool could turn down such an opportunity?
But let’s be honest. The man looking for the pearl of great value also came across some fake pearls as well as many pearls of far lesser value. And you might argue that “a pearl is a pearl”, but that’s not true, any more than to say every house is just a house. Some folks just leave eternity as some sort of inevitable end that all of us will experience and that none of us can be sure of. We ask ourselves, “If there is a heaven, who knows which religion has the right formula that will allow us to reach that place of eternal peace and purpose?” But think for a moment about the first 12 disciples, and later Paul and millions of other martyrs to the faith. They were l2 merchants, in search of fine pearls, and once they found Jesus they gave up all they had. They did not think that that pearl as some abstract idea, nor did they believe it could be found anywhere else except in Jesus Christ.
The fact is, they believed this pearl to be nothing other than the Kingdom of God, but entrance was only obtained through the body and blood of Jesus Christ. For this they suffered the loss of all things and purchased the pearl with the price of their blood. This pearl of great price exists… and it is worth all that you have\
So again, the ultimate goal of life, the value above all values, according to Jesus is “the Kingdom of Heaven”. We do not yet know all the details about this eternal place. It’s wrapped up like a Christmas present. But although we don’t know all the details about what’s inside that pretty package, I know who wrapped it—-and I know that He loves me beyond my comprehension. I know that if I had all the money and power in the universe what I would wrap up for Greg, Tommy and Tyler! It would be not be some cheap imitation of a gift—it would amaze and astound them. Oh what love—far exceeding!—that God has for those of us who seek to be His sons and daughters.
Bernard of Clairvaux, aka Saint Bernard, helped found the Knights Templar, and he one once wrote a treatise called, “On Loving God”, and he offered the steps anyway takes in finding that pearl of great value:
We all begin our journey here with a love of self. We think that the world revolves around us. This is the life of a child, and we expect it, but it’s disgusting when we see it in an adult. This represents the time in our lives when we aware of our needs but, nothing else. The world revolves around us.This is narcissism—the love of self over and above all other loves. It is how we all started out as infants, but it’s not the life as intended by God. It might be natural, but it’s spiritually unnatural. It’s the beginning point of our spiritual journey—-but we must leave it behind or it will destroy us.
C. S. Lewis spoke once of being awakened in the middle of the night during his bachelor days and not being able to go back to sleep. It was totally dark and utterly still in his bedroom at Magdalen College. There was no way to perceive anything there outside himself. It was as if he were alone in a vacuous black hole. Suddenly he sat bolt upright in bed, for it dawned on him that such isolation was the logical end of a self-centered life.
“What if,” he found himself asking, “we get in eternity exactly what we’ve lived for in this life?” This means if we’ve truly loved others and beauty and ideas and causes beyond ourselves, we shall continue to participate in that realm of richness. But if we’ve lived only for ourselves—if every thought and concern has revolved around the self and the self alone—could it be that all we shall get will be ourselves and nothing else? This would be hell, and perhaps that’s a good description of it—total isolation, the worst of all punishments, short of capital punishment.
It’s funny, but it’s been said that the first twelve years of our lives we hear our parents tell us that we’re God’s gift to humanity and that we are the center of the universe, and then we live the rest of our lives being told that are are not the center of the universe! We’ve no choice about our beginning or how our parents indulge us, but we do have a choice as to whether we remain there.
But later, if our parents educate us, and don’t ruin our lives by spoiling us, and if we are open to the good news about who God is, there begins a growing awareness of others and of God. The focus is still very much on ourselves, but we begin to realize others, and the need to love them. We begin to understand God’s love for us. This is the point where we begin to pray and see His providential hand. We realize not only that He loves us, but that is able to bless us, protect us and give us the desires of our hearts. We begin to seek Him—but mainly for what He can do for us. Thank goodness He is patient!
But later, if we maintain our relationship with Jesus, we come to understand that we love God not merely what He can do for us, but we realize that we are only complete when we love Him. We find ourselves worshipping Him, praising Him, talking to Him—but not because of our wants, but because of who God is and the humbling realization of who we are without Him!
But the final step in our walk with Christ, as we earnestly seek that pearl of great value, is to learn to love ourselves for God’s sake. Does that sound strange? It’s what’s going to happen to us if we keep following Him. It’s what’s in store for us in heaven. We learn to love ourselves as God always wanted and intends for eternity.
But think about it for a moment? Who is the most difficult person you know, to love? Is it not yourself? Who is the most difficult person in the world for me to love? For me—–it has always been me. I am aware that I am not the man I want to be….dreamt of being….hoped to become. Of all humanity, I am the most disgusted with myself—and for good reasons. And this is not to say that I want God to hold me accountable for my failures and the miserable specimen of a son, friend, father, pastor and businessman that I am. No! I want His mercy—but I would also like to figure out what it is about me that He could possibly love and care about….
So it makes sense when Saint Bernard suggests that the highest stage of development is when we learn to love ourselves…. for God’s sake. The point is, obviously, that God loves me….has chosen me….has called me His own….has given me this pearl of inestimable value. I am important to Him, and therefore, I should stop looking down on myself—because He doesn’t.