The Pearl of Great Price

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The image of a large and beautiful pearl has fascinated humanity for centuries. Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl follows the life and misfortunes of a pearl-diver who finds an immense and valuable pearl, and the troubles that it brings his family. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints uses this parable, The Pearl of Great Price, as a title for one of its scriptures. Pearls play a significant role in Hindu mythology and Muslim and Christian scriptures. Pearls are a symbol of opulence, and all other factors being equal, the general rule with pearls is the larger, the better.

With this wide-spread human experience in the background, Jesus tells this parable, “Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant man who was seeking goodly pearls. But finding one pearl of great worth, he went away and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hero of this parable is a merchant man, not a diver. His quest is not to find pearls in oysters in the ocean, but in stalls in a marketplace. He is not the producer nor even the harvester of the valuable item: he is a retail man, buying valuable items for less than they are worth and up-selling them for a profit. His specialty knowledge is not oysters and their oceanic habitat, but the human market with its never-ending waves of supply and demand. He’s more of a stock-trader than a fisherman; like any good retail seller, he’s more psychologist than scientist.

But to this merchant, as to other protagonists in Jesus’ parables, comes a life-changing moment. Suddenly his normal life of small successes and failures, daily systems, people and relationships comes screeching to a halt when he sees the One Great Pearl. What is its worth? Who can say? To the right buyer, the sky’s the limit. The pearl’s worth is such that the cost to obtain it – though it costs the merchant everything – is still vastly inadequate to meet the pearl’s potential value. What would a local aristocrat pay for it? What would a king pay? An emperor? Whatever resources he maintained on his person to purchase normal pearls on his daily market-trip are inadequate. This one will require more, much more – maybe everything. But if he can somehow acquire it, the payoff will be far greater still. The risk is worth it!

Imagine a merchant so animated – not by desire, but by opportunity – who goes in a frenzy and begins selling his possessions. Everything must go! Closeout sale! No deal refused! No sacrifice of value would be too great in the sale of his goods, as long as he can raise the necessary funds to purchase the One Great Pearl. Imagine his nervousness when, at the final limit of his resources, he takes the money to the oyster-man and offers it – a poor offering, really, considering the beauty and worth of his object; far from a fair exchange. But the seller agrees. A bargain is struck, and what a bargain it is! The merchant’s everything is really nothing compared to the value he receives in the Pearl of Great Price.

So also, says Jesus, we should look at the Kingdom of Heaven as opportunity. It comes to us in our mundane, work-a-day moments and offers unlimited value. What opportunity has God offered you? What does He promise to give that will be worth you risking everything in your life to obtain it? And though we offer to God our everything, altogether it is still nothing compared to the surpassing value that we obtain in return; the gap is so great that it can in no way be considered a fair exchange. We are almost cheating God, giving him nothing (though it is our all) and receiving wholeness, joy, healing, contentment, sanctity, hope, and an unlimited future. Yet nothing less than our all will obtain this blessing for us.

If you knew you would purchase a winning MegaMillions lottery ticket worth $500 million, would you buy one? For $1, sure! But what if it were to cost you $100? Would you spend $100 of your money to obtain a winning lottery ticket? What if it must cost $1000? What about $10,000? Could you justify selling everything you own, raiding your retirement savings, begging, borrowing, and stealing the last dollar at your disposal just to buy lottery tickets? It’s a trick question: remember, you KNOW one of them will win you more money than you can possibly spend in a hundred lifetimes. What risk would you not run to strike a bargain at such a guaranteed profit?

We stand now as the merchant who has seen the Pearl of Great Price and is wondering whether he can sell enough to obtain it. God has promised you everything: love, peace, joy, the power of the Spirit, community, contentment, hope, an unlimited future… and so much more besides. This God is faithful and will fulfill the bargain, even at His own immense cost (little do we guess how much it has cost Him!) The payoff is guaranteed, but to reach it – to reach it requires risk, and hard work, and suffering, and time. Will you attempt it? Will you give everything you have to obtain everything God has to offer?

Posted by The Rev. John Thorpe with

A Wise Man Builds on Rock and a Foolish Man Builds on Sand

A Wise Man Builds on Rock and a Foolish Man Builds on Sand

Matthew 7:24-27

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” 

Luke 6:47-49

I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

"If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first."

-  Marion Cran, If I Were Beginning Again

When a parable appears in more than one gospel text, it can be intended as a significant and important message for the followers of Christ.  Jesus used parables as teaching tools for his Jewish followers who were trying to understand a new and somewhat confusing way of understanding who Jesus was and what it would mean to be a follower and disciple of Christ.  That we have these two parables recorded by the evangelists in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke helps to clarify the parable’s meaning as conveyed through their distinct styles. The evangelists in both gospels write to give authority to Jesus early in his ministry, after he spent time in the desert and gathered his earliest disciples.  Christ’s divine authority would be necessary for the followers to understand as they joined in ministry with Jesus and by doing so, entered unfamiliar territory peppered with unfettered criticism and even looming danger.

Matthew’s version of this parable appears in the text immediately following the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is teaching about the way of life necessary to be a follower of Christ.  In that famous selection, the door is cracked and a peek at Jesus’s authority of God is visible with close study.  The parable shapes a brief yet powerful image of God’s will for God’s people, embedding into that imagery the authoritative nature of God and therefore of Jesus Christ.  And once you can know Christ, then you are compelled to follow Christ.  This would have been an unveiling of a newer view of who Jesus was as holding the authority of God, and happened when he was still quite early in his ministry.  That authority is strong like a rock, not a shifting or uneven or fleeting authority and it will be on that rock that the church itself will be built. And Jesus makes clear that hearing and following any other authority than that of Christ’s is foolish indeed.

Luke’s rendition of this parable is absent any indicator of who is wise and who is foolish, and adds to Matthew’s reference to building on rock by hearing and following Christ.  This evangelist chooses to include the meaning of rock as the foundation for building one’s house, a concept that would have been foreign to those living in ancient Palestine where building any building on solid footing would have been a challenge.  This is significant to note, because what Jesus was teaching was quite different than what these believers were accustomed to hearing, and imagery like this would have been more impactful to them then it might be to modern day home dwellers who understand that building a strong house on a strong foundation is a given. The Greek understanding of this usage of foundation is that it is something that is physically laid down.  Luke’s addition of this description is helpful in understanding that there is a physical response to hearing Christ’s words and then acting upon them, and in doing so, making your faith stronger and shoring oneself up against the storms of a raging river that each of us is bound to encounter in our life’s journey.

The wise words above from Marion Cran come out of years of tending her garden and the wisdom she gained and shared in her role as the first gardening radio broadcaster in Great Britain.  Cran spent her life doing important work for the British government in the early 20th century, and it would not be a stretch to think that this quote from her love of gardening influenced her work beyond just biological soil.  For us who read this parables, Cran’s quote is helpful to understand the fundamental teaching of these two parables.  Allying oneself to the soil is another way to imagine hearing the teaching of Jesus Christ and then inhabiting that teaching ourselves, putting those teachings first and foremost in our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.  It’s impossible to go wrong when we adhere to Christ’s teachings.  No river or rains, no floods or winds, cannot be overcome by the power of Christ Jesus.

Posted by Paige Hanks with

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