You don’t find a pearl like that every day

The treasure in the field was a popular image in antiquity, and one that found its way into the Bible. Today still it has a lot to tell us, for example, that human beings have to choose what is important and what is to last. Not everything can be equally valid.

The gospel of Matthew 13: 44–46 recounts an interesting and easy to understand story: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Who would not do that?!

The pearl is the kingdom of heaven

Two different premises: the one owns nothing and finds everything. The other has everything and finds even more. What is common to both parables is that the protagonists do everything in order to acquire the treasure and to keep it. According to the words of Jesus, the pearl represents the kingdom of heaven. This is not only the transcendent heaven, but also the kingdom of heaven here on earth, that is, the kingdom of God in the here and now. Of course, man cannot buy the kingdom of heaven—something most people know. Even if there are still a few specimens of the human species that think so: heaven cannot be bought with money or goods. That is not what the story is telling us, however. By putting the precious pearl on the same level as heaven, the author wants to draw attention to its inestimable value. There is nothing more precious or of comparable importance. On our list of priorities, “heaven” should be number one. The Bible text describes two situations. In the first, a man finds a treasure without deliberately having gone to look for it. In the second, the merchant actually went to look for beautiful pearls, and found one that is unique and more beautiful than all the others he already possesses. Contradictions? No. These are two axioms of faith that are still valid.

  • God alone grants access to the kingdom of heaven—to whomever He wants and whenever He wants. Salvation can neither be acquired by merit nor by good works.
  • Those who seek will find. Christ allows Himself be found by those who seek Him in faith. God then grants them salvation through the sacraments.

Christ is the pearl

Unfortunately, many people are so self-absorbed—with their everyday lives, their work, or their cares—that they have no time for anything else. Others are busy doing good works, and invest a lot of time into giving alms, leading a pious life, or practicing self-denial. Still others are searching for happiness and fortune, for recognition and prestige. The following applies to all: seeking Christ and finding salvation for one’s soul. That is what it counts. Christ is the pearl. The glad tidings of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, and the salvation offered by Him, are invaluable and unique and cannot be bought for all the money in the world. Those who accept Christ’s salvation will be immensely rich. But this requires that human beings make advance investments. The parable makes clear: both men—the poor as well as the rich one—put all their eggs in one basket. They renounced their way of life in order to acquire these extraordinary riches.

A worthwhile investment

For today’s Christian this means that he gives serious thought to his eternal existence and his fellowship with God. Instead of allowing himself to be guided by transitory values, he subordinates everything to this unique goal and invests in a project that secures him eternal gain.

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Peter Johanning
Divine service