The Treasure and the Pearl

John leads Mary from the crucifixion

John leads Mary from the crucifixion

These two parables are the shortest in the Bible – – each is only one verse long.  They’re also very well-known, but how well are they really understood?

The “standard” interpretation of these parables runs along these lines: when you find the kingdom of God (in Jesus) you should be ready to give up everything to gain it because it is the most valuable thing there is.  Now, this is a major truth, and one we need to hear often.  For although salvation is the free gift of God, it is also the most expensive free gift ever; you cannot buy it for it has no price, yet to obtain it you must give up everything – all that you have, yes, but also all that you are.  This gift is so big that to make room for it we must be empty.  And why not?  Was anything we had really worth holding on to?  Even those things we may have felt had some value or use must go, for God wants to give us not good things but the best things.  If it was something we need then God will give it back, only better!

This is what Bonhoeffer would call costly grace.  Sixty years ago he decried the preaching of cheap grace that was rampant in the church and, sadly, things are no better today.  Too many in the church today see Jesus as a sort of add-on, a miracle additive that can make a so-so life run better.  They go to church on Sunday for some spiritual entertainment and a little mental exercise, they read the Bible and a devotional in the mornings to give their day a lift, but most of their life is still theirs.  Not that they can be blamed when that is the extent of the gospel that is preached.

Yet this is not the gospel!  Jesus never promised to make our life here better in those terms.  While his yoke is easy it is only for those who take up the cross and follow him – – even if he is bound for Gethsemane and Calvary.  Nor will you see it in the early church: Acts is full of strife, danger, and cost for the apostles and believers.  So we must face the question: do we really think the kingdom of heaven is valuable, and if so are we ready to give up (or have we already given up) everything for it?

A major truth and one we desperately need, but in seeing it have we exhausted these little parables?  Have we, in fact, even seen the main truth in them?

Some parables are meant to teach principles rather than specific truths.  For instance, yeast is used to show the principle that small things can have big, far-reaching effects.  Sometimes this can be good: we are to be the yeast in this world; sometimes it can be bad: beware the yeast and the Pharisees.  The principle is the same, the application is different.  In the present case we can see the parables also teaching a principle: when someone desires something and then finds a perfect example he will do whatever it takes to make it his.

Clearly the application we have discussed fits this principle, but the context of these verses offers another application, perhaps the primary one.  Matthew 13 is a collection of five parables of the kingdom, of which these are the third and fourth.  In all of the other three (the parables of the sower, of the wheat and tares, and of the catch of fish) the focus is less on us than on God – he is the sower, the owner of the wheat field, the fisherman.  What if that is true here too?  Then the story reads a little differently!

The kingdom of heaven is something of great value to God but it is buried in the field of the world.  It is not easily seen, but God desired it so much that he found it and having found it he was willing to do whatever it took–even to giving his son – – to possess it.  He is like a pearl merchant who found among all the other pearls that one pearl he had a have, so we got rid of all the rest to possess that one.

But, of course, the kingdom of heaven is made up of people –  you and me –  so we can re-write the parable a bit more: in the midst of a dirty, fallen world, God caught a glimpse of you and recognized in you a great treasure. So he kept you hidden for a while as he did everything he had to so that he could call you his.  He was looking for good pearls and in you saw something beyond price that he absolutely had to have!  Yes – – from God’s prospective you are the great treasure, the pearl of greatest price.  With God it is not a numbers game; he doesn’t want you just because that makes his kingdom one person bigger – he wants you because he sees you as precious, as worth the cost.

Is God blind?  Does he not realise that we are mere sinners; poor, dirty, unworthy?  Of course he sees that – – he sees it better than we do!  But where that is often all we see, he sees more.  He sees what we can be when he cleans us up.  And he can clean us up, he doesn’t play “let’s pretend”.  How dare we accuse God of self-deception!  If anyone sees clearly, he does.  And if he says he can make you a treasure, he can.  He’s the God of reality, so believe him.

You are loved, More: you are treasured!


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One Response to “The Treasure and the Pearl”

  1. Knowing God Is Our Greatest Treasure « bummyla Says:

    […] The Treasure and the Pearl ( […]

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