45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,
46 “who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
I am a stargazer. I don’t own a telescope, but I love looking up at the stars, and I keep up with the latest news and images from the many telescopes trained on the stars above. I love seeing the marvelous images from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing us vistas of great wonder, stars like diamonds laid out across vast pillows of nebulae. I read how scientists, hoping to understand something of the laws that rule our universe, study these images of stars and distant planets, and yet it is the simply beauty of the night sky that draws me in.
All the study of stars and atoms cannot explain that beauty. Even those scientists who study evolutionary biology cannot explain the “survival value” of a human being thinking that something is beautiful. For example, take the rose. In every culture on the earth, every person you are likely to meet feels that a rose has beauty. Why is that? Roses are not good to eat, and their thorns are quite painful. Roses make a decent hedge against unwanted neighbors, but our supposed primitive ancestors would not have known that nor cultivated them for that purpose. Yet we love roses. We recognize their beauty, and we prize their color and delicacy. And we men often pay exorbitant prices to buy them for our lady friends and family.
In speaking of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus said it was like one pearl of great price. How do we measure the worth of a pearl? Gemologists will tell you it is based on the color and size and symmetry and, well, the BEAUTY of the pearl. There is no simple objective measure that says “a pearl of such-and-such diameter and weight is worth this much.” There are other factors that are very subjective, and they all add up to paint a picture of beauty. In short, we recognize the value and beauty of a pearl based on our own vision and our experience with other pearls.
The merchant who seeks beautiful pearls does so because he is never satisfied with what he has already found. He goes wherever the market leads him, buying and selling and trading to get the best of the best among beautiful pearls. The more pearls he sees, the less satisfied he is with what he has seen. After so many years of searching, a pearl he may have bought five years ago is now worth nothing in his eyes, because now he is more discerning and less easily satisfied with “inferior” beauty.
And then he finds the ONE pearl of great price. The one who already owns that pearl understands its worth, and so does the merchant who has sought and sought for the most beautiful pearls. Recognizing that ultimate beauty, the merchant sells everything he has–even his vast collection of other beautiful pearls–to get this one pearl. He sees this one gem and realizes that it truly is worth more than all his other pearls put together, and he does not think it robbery to pay whatever is asked of him. He does not measure the pearl nor assess it to see if he can re-sell it for a higher price. No, he gives up all he has to possess this one pearl of great price because it is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
In our own searches for beauty and worth, our own spiritual seeking after meaning and love, we will find many lesser pearls. We will find bits of wisdom strewn like diamonds across the sky, each sparkling with its own light but none so bright that it illuminates our life. If we truly seek God, He will be found by us, and we will never be satisfied until we have found Him. His kingdom will be the one prize at the end of much seeking, the one pearl for which we would give up all we have.
And yet there are some who do not give up all they have. They see that pearl–the kingdom of heaven, the gospel of Christ, the Word of God, the mercy and grace of our Creator–and they hold on to all the other pearls they have already acquired. Or they keep seeking after still more beautiful pearls, hoping to add to a collection that should have been complete with just the One. But the person who does not give up all he has to possess the kingdom of heaven will never have that One. You see, the kingdom of heaven is for those who recognize its worth and give up all to be there, forsaking their search to simply possess the one Savior who is the one way, the one truth, the one life. There is no need to search for more and more beautiful pearls when the pearl of the kingdom of heaven is before us.
Like the merchant in this short parable, we have all sought beauty in many places, and we have paid the price for seeking love and grace where it cannot be found. Oh, we have found lesser things–fleeting moments of spiritual clarity, ephemeral lust disguised as love, false wisdom wrapped up to look like enlightenment, temporary satisfaction in material things–but none of them has ever been the One we sought. And so we keep searching, don’t we?
The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things–a mustard seed, a treasure in a field, a dragnet, leaven in a loaf of bread, scattered seed–but mostly it is something of such great beauty that we should be willing to give up all we have to possess it. It needs to grow like that mustard seed, infuse all our lives like that leaven, draw us in like that net, and find fertile ground like the seed of the gospel. We must recognize the worth of the kingdom of heaven and never be satisfied with anything less, and once we have found the kingdom of heaven and accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we need seek no further for any other beautiful pearls.
Brothers and sisters, the pearl is before us, a thing of such great value that we cannot measure its worth. We see the beauty of the kingdom of heaven and we must realize there is nothing more beautiful to be had. No price is too great to pay for this Christ who has paid the price for our salvation. No wisdom is greater than the gospel of peace with God. No word is more true than the Word of God. Nothing we have ever owned can compare to the beauty of God’s holiness, grace, and love. It is time we stopped seeking beautiful pearls and give all we have to possess the one pearl of great price: the kingdom of heaven that is found through the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Precious Lord God, indeed Your kingdom is beautiful beyond compare. Let me no longer seek the lesser beauty of men’s wisdom or men’s love and praise. Let me instead seek Your beauty and glory. Let me be satisfied only in You, knowing Your salvation is the most beautiful thing I may ever own. Amen.