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?