The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 13:44-46. Jesus said,
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.Jesus' parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value illustrate two different ways that people discover the kingdom of God.
The treasure hidden in the field was discovered by a poor man going about his everyday work. He was digging in a field when suddenly his shovel hit something hard. Digging further, he uncovers a chest. Unearthing it and opening it, he finds a pile of precious jewels pouring out.
How would you feel in the same situation? The man was elated, just as a man named Michael Sparks must have been elated when he discovered an early copy of the Declaration of Independence in a thrift store. But unlike Michael Sparks, the man in Jesus' story didn't pay $2.48 to get the treasure chest. The man in Jesus' story was so filled with joy that he went away and sold all he had and bought the field.
Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of God is so valuable it is worth giving everything we have in exchange for it. And some people are just like the man in Jesus' story: they discover the kingdom seemingly by accident.
By contrast, the pearl of great value is discovered by a man of means--a merchant. Pearls were considered among the most valuable jewels of ancient times. This particular pearl was discovered after a long and patient search. This merchant was on the lookout for fine pearls. He knew what he was after. He had examined many fine specimens. However, one day he found a pearl far greater than any he had ever seen in his career. Like the poor laborer who discovered the treasure in the field, the merchant sold everything he had in order to buy the pearl.
Many people treat religion and religious ideas like a string of pearls. They sample everything on the market. They get one pearl here and one pearl there and add it to their string. I think Jesus is telling us that there is one pearl, the kingdom of heaven, which is more valuable than all the others.
Justin was a professor, living in the second century AD. He had sampled the various philosophies of his day but found them all wanting. One day he met a man in a field who told him about Jesus. Justin started reading the Scriptures to see if what the man told him was really true. Justin became a convinced and joyful convert to the Christian faith. Eventually he gave his life as a martyr because he had found the pearl of great value and he was willing to give everything in exchange for it.
Jim Eliot was another who gave all he had in order to have the pearl of great value. He gave his life trying to reach a remote tribe in South America with the good news about Jesus. Eliot once wrote, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
None of us are going to get out of this life with anything, materially speaking. I have presided over many funerals and I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer. Why not give what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose?