Years ago I was quite surprised to discover that Matthew 13:45-46 does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price. I had heard countless people claim that Jesus compared the kingdom to the pearl, but then when I actually went back and read the parable slowly and carefully, I found that it was saying something quite different. The verses in question read as follows:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Notice carefully that Jesus does not compare the kingdom to the pearl of great value. Rather, he compares the kingdom to the merchant. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant . . .”
If the kingdom is like the merchant in the parable (and not the pearl), it’s certainly worth pondering the nature of the merchant.
Jesus attributes five actions to the merchant. The merchant searches, finds, goes, sells, and buys. How, then, is the kingdom of heaven like this searching, finding, going, selling, buying merchant?
Perhaps it’s something like this: Sometimes the rule of God over a person begins at the place of searching. A person is awakened to a sense of lack, however vague: “My five-bedroom house and my ATVs and my Lexus, and even my wife and family aren’t quite bringing me the sense of fulfillment and peace that I thought they would. Something is missing.” So maybe the person visits Chapters/Indigo and fishes through the self-help and ‘spirituality’ shelves, and maybe he or she also confides in a trusted friend. The search is on.
And then God in his sovereignty ensures that somewhere, some way, that searching person comes under the sound of the gospel. The finding occurs. The person discovers the pearl! He or she recognizes his or her need for peace with God by the sacrifice of Christ, is born again, and enters an entire new level of life.
Priorities and paradigms are altered. The gospel and the Christ of the gospel invade a life and turn everything upside down. Christ now seems worth volumes more than any other thing. The saved person is now willing to go make whatever radical sacrifice is necessary, if he or she might just “keep the pearl” (i.e. remain in Christ and live to honor Him). Biological family ties take second place. Material keeping and consuming takes a backseat, and so on and so forth. A new Authority has changed everything.
The rule of God sometimes comes in a way that resembles the merchant.
What do you think? Is this a misreading of the parable? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Grace and Peace,