‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.’ (Matthew 13.44-46 NRSV)
Upon the discovery of the hidden treasure, we are told that the man had to sell everything he had to buy the field, which perhaps means he had almost no money to begin with. If he was poor, that serves as an analogy for a person who doesn’t know God, someone who is spiritually poor. The treasure is God’s grace, which often remains unseen – hence the image of the treasure being hidden. Selling everything he currently owned presumably required a certain level of risk, yet the man took that risk. When we see God’s grace clearly, there is only one response: a joyful giving up of our old ways to follow the way of Jesus. The first story, therefore, can be seen as a description of how someone becomes a Christian.
In the second story there’s a contrast with the possible economic status of the first man. The second character is a wealthy businessman – a pearl merchant. He has already discovered God’s grace – hence he already has some pearls. Yet, despite his riches, something is clearly still missing for him.
The ironic thing is that the first character wasn’t consciously aware that something was missing and he certainly wasn’t actively searching for anything. The second character had already come into wealth, yet from the moment we meet him he is clearly aware that something is still missing and he goes on a search. The experience of God’s grace didn’t make him complacent – it made him hungry for more. That’s how it should be once we know God in our lives: we should want to know him better, love him better, follow him better.
What’s your pearl of great price? Our pearl of great price may be very clear to us or it may still be buried in our hearts. You might not have recognised the above picture of the world’s largest pearl as a pearl, and that’s how it is sometimes with the kingdom of God. The kingdom is with us but many have failed to see it, to recognise the work of God’s grace in their lives. Our reluctance to give our total commitment to anyone or anything may still be a reality for us. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. I think this lockdown has caused many to ponder what is their pearl of great price? Is it God? Are you like the first man who doesn’t know there’s treasure to be found so isn’t actively looking for it, or are you like the second man who has found something of the treasure but knows there’s more to be had? Perhaps you don’t identify with either of those characters. Perhaps you don’t read Jesus’ story that way. Another way I have heard the story interpreted is that we are the pearl of great price for whom God gives up everything to possess.