Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Do We Find the Pearl?

Our texts this week are actually the texts from last week, which we missed due to our fantastic Music and Arts Presentation. So, we'll be looking at Genesis 29:15-28, Romans 8:26-39, and most particularly Matthew 13:31-33 and 44-53. They can be read here.

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 13:45-46

And now I had discovered the good pearl. To buy it I had to sell all that I had; and I hesitated. -Augustine, Confessions (8.1.2)

The parable of the pearl has long fascinated me, which is part of the reason I could not let this week of lectionary scriptures pass me by. When I have faced brutal decisions in life, times that you know you have to make difficult choices, this parable has more than once come to my mind: what is my pearl of great price? And what am I willing to give up in order to pursue it?

These are scary questions--and difficult ones to answer. Let's just be literal about the parable for a minute, shall we? I just checked my bank account, and in the month of July I have made 38 different purchases using my checking account. This doesn't count cash, which is harder to keep track of--a few dollars here, a few there. I looked at where the money had gone, and maybe there were a few frivolous purchases, but most were needful (well, fairly needful) things--rent, gas, insurance, food, phone, car repair, charitable giving, gifts for people with birthdays or birthing children, medicine--things it would be awfully hard not to be able to pay for.

So I wonder what the merchant did once he had his pearl. A pearl won't feed you, or house you, or get you from place to may be amazing and awesome and the coolest thing you've ever seen, but really, now that you have what? Was it all he'd hoped it would be or did he find, as that great progressive Baptist preacher Carlyle Marney once pointed out, that there is "no agony in life more acute than those moments when you realize you've paid too much" (which, though a bit of an exaggeration--I can think of many things more agonizing--does touch on the depths of regret such a choice can trigger)?

I realize that this is a parable, and hence not meant to be taken literally. But it troubles and challenges me: what is worth giving everything for--what is so great that we can give even the good up? What is so important that all other things of importance fall away? There are a lot of pearls in our lives that are incredibly can we choose one, and how can something so great ask so much of us?

What is our pearl of great price, and what will we give up to hold it--and it alone--in the palm of our hand?

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