ohn Steinbeck captured the intent of Jesus' parable about a pearl of great price in his novella entitled, The Pearl . Kino, a poor Mexican pearl diver, was living a happy albeit spartan life with his wife and child. Then he found a magnificent pearl, “The Pearl of the World,” it was soon called. He was elated at first but then began to be besieged by dishonest pearl merchants and envious neighbors. Even a greedy physician tied his treatment of their baby, bitten by a scorpion, to the possible acquisition of the pearl of great price. After a series of disasters, Kino went to the sea and threw the pearl back into the depths. Some things are so costly that they destroy everything else.
Atlanta hosted the Sports Collectibles International Convention and we read stories in the newspaper about folks coming from all across the world to pay ridiculous prices for baseball cards, football jerseys, and even a baseball autographed by Pope John Paul. I never heard what the final bid was but the bidding started at ten thousand dollars.
A grocery store clerk drove from Richmond to complete his collection of little bobble head papier-mâché football babies. He paid $135.00 and $150.00 to complete his collection of forty-six. Well maybe that's OK if it's his hobby, and he enjoys it, and if he can one day in retirement recoup his investment, and if his five grand investment did not take shoes off his baby's feet. Let's further excuse ourselves and say that many of us collect diverse stuff. Once I told a lady that I collect and restore old fountain pens and she looked at me seemingly confounded and replied, “Well I think I will start collecting old can openers.”
Jesus' parable of the pearl is drawing an analogy between a valuable commodity and an inward and spiritual experience. Jesus is talking about our personal priorities. What matters most? As long as Christ and His Kingdom is first place other things have a way of finding their rightful place.
Later in Matthew's Gospel, a Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus seeking eternal life and was told that he must first be willing to sell everything he had and then come and follow Jesus. But the wealthy young man went away sad because he was not willing to give it up to follow Jesus. (Matt. 19: 16-20). Note that the young man must be willing to give up his pearl before he could freely follow Jesus. Jesus was saying that he must transfer his financial security and sense of calling from God in order to become a follower of Jesus. All of the other Apostles had given up their careers in order to have this new pearl.
The metaphor that Jesus used is not perfect (no analogy is ever just right.) The fact is we do not so much find the Great Pearl/The Kingdom as it finds us. In the final analysis, it is usually the naturally occurring adversity and terror of life that is used by God to implant into our souls a more magnificent vision.
I consider myself very fortunate to have realized early on in my ministry that the highest calling is that of serving a local church. Thus, I have never been consumed by the passion of church politics. As a young minister I saw young clergy chase after the office of bishop, and only one or two actually being elected, and the others sometimes hung their heads in shame for not having achieved their own ideal goal, or pearl.
The truth is that we find the pearls along the wayside as we follow Him in Discipleship. We sell all else, or at least we are willing to put secondary things in secondary categories, as we learn about the one who is meek and lowly of spirit. No matter what our vocation is in the job world, our great joy is found in knowing that we are fulfilling His will for our lives. When we realize that our life, and our hope of eternal life, is in His hands then other things do not matter so much. There will come a time when nothing else matters but the assurance of heaven.
No terminally ill person ever expresses his regrets that he/she did not spend more time at the office. They ask for their spouse and children and they celebrate the wonderful love they have shared along the way as they have been careful to seek and do God's will.
Steinbeck assumed that most readers would have a familiarity with the Bible enough to make a connection with Keno's “ Pearl of the World,” and Jesus' parable of “The Pearl of Great Price.” However, reviewers pointed out that most people did not get it.
Thanks to God that we do get it! We have heard this story and have lived by it. Momentous life altering decisions have been made by all of us in critical times that have been turned by the Pearl of Utmost Value: “What really matters most for our family?”
Two executives were being considered for the same major promotion and both were in the same Sunday School Class. One came by to get my slant on things. His wife and kids were all upset about a move to Seattle . Her parents were in a nursing home in Atlanta and the children had never changed schools and now they were in high school. As we talked his “Great Pearl” lost some of its allure. They decided to put it in God's hands and he kind of stepped back a half-step. The other “boy wonder” grabbed the gap and that family moved in the middle of a school year into a bigger house. Soon his wife was spending most of her time back here, on this side of the continent, and the kids drove off in their new cars and poor old Dad's pearl seemed tarnished.
But not for us! We know better! We know our pearls!
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor