Wednesday, March 10, 1999

The Hidden Treasure and The Pearl of Great Price

Chapter 8

Matthew 13:44-46

Glenn Calkins tells the story of a man who lived in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.1 He found it difficult to survive on a little piece of land on a rocky mountainside in an old log cabin without any of the modern facilities, no running water or electricity. One day a man drove to the little cabin in a big, shiny limousine.

After greeting the owner, the stranger asked, "How much would you take for the place?"

"Why," the man answered, "it's not for sale."

"But," the man in the limousine persisted, "just suppose you did want to sell it, what sort of price would you put on it?"

He answered, "Oh, I would ask far more than you or anyone else would be willing to pay for such a miserable, poor piece of land as this."

"Well," the man persisted, "how much would you take?"

He replied in an offhand way, "You wouldn't pay me five hundred dollars for a place like this, and no one else would either."

The man responded, "You come to the courthouse tomorrow morning, and I will give you five hundred dollars in cash."

The owner was astounded. He thought it was worth only about two hundred dollars at the most. The next day he was at the courthouse. He signed the papers transferring the title to the man who came on a limousine. Now the land no longer belonged to the original owner. Curious to know, the mountaineer asked this man, "Why did you, a smart city man, pay such a ridiculous price for this worthless piece of land?"

The new owner replied, "Your little place is the only spot in North America where diamonds can be found. You sold a valuable piece of land altogether too cheap."

In this chapter we discuss The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and The Pearl of Great Price. Both parables tell the story of the sacrifice necessary to gain something of great value. One deals with a hidden treasure and the other with a pearl of great price. The treasure is discovered accidentally, while the pearl is found after a long search. The man who finds the treasure is a poor laborer, working in a field that is not his own. The man who finds the pearl is a rich pearl merchant. These parables illustrate that the kingdom is for everyone, the poor laborer and the rich merchantman. Both must make a comparable effort to obtain it.

Many people find the Kingdom of God without actually looking for it. In his college days Adoniram Judson, the great missionary to Burma, rebelled against his father's strict Puritan religion and was greatly influenced by a Jacob Eames who was an atheist.2 After college, he went to New York hoping to write for the theater. In the city he attached himself to a band of actors and lived a "reckless vagabond life, finding lodgings where we could, and bilking the landlord where we found opportunity--in other words running up a score, and then decamping without paying the reckoning."3

He became disillusioned with what he found in New York and decided to return home. On the way, he stopped at an inn to spend the night. As he lay in bed, he heard noises from the next room where a young man was seriously ill. He began to think about death and became certain that he was not prepared to "meet his maker". Then he thought of what Eames would say and was shamed by Eames's imagined laughter. As he was paying his bill the next morning, he asked the innkeeper whether the young man in the room next to his was better. "He is dead," was the answer.

"Do you know who he was?" Adoniram asked.

"Oh yes. A young man from the college in Providence. Name was Eames, Jacob Eames." Judson was stunned. One word persisted in his mind, "Lost". He was not in search of hidden treasure, but this experience changed his life.

In Christ's day people hid their valuables by burying them in their fields. But if the owner died without having the opportunity to tell his heirs where it was hidden, the land might be sold and the new owners would know nothing about the treasure. If someone who did not own the land discovered the treasure, he could buy the land without fear that his reason for doing so would be discovered.

For the day laborer that found the treasure in the field, it was not easy to find sufficient money for its purchase. While the parable says that the man sold all that he had, it must have taken more than he had to purchase the field. But even if he borrowed heavily, he knew that what he borrowed was a minor amount compared to what he would gain. In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul declares: "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure."

Jeremias refers to the value people placed upon pearls in ancient times.

They were fished for especially in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean, by divers, and used for adornment, especially as necklaces. We hear of pearls worth millions. Caesar presented the mother of his subsequent murderer, Brutus, with a pearl worth 6 million sesterces (about 50,000-100,000 pounds). Cleopatra is said to have possessed a pearl worth 100 million sesterces (1 1/2 million pounds) [2 1/4 million dollars].4

The merchantman, a pearl connoisseur, went from place to place looking for exquisite pearls. He no doubt had a marvelous collection of pearls, but he was constantly searching for something better. One day he came across this pearl of his dreams, and knew that he could never hope to find another like it. With quivering voice, he asked, "What's the price?" The price of the pearl matched its beauty. It was a staggering figure. However, he answered without hesitation that he would buy it.

He hurried back home and began to sell everything he owned. His friends asked him, "What's going on, friend?" "Oh," he answered with enthusiasm, "I've found the most beautiful pearl in the world, and I'm selling everything I own in order to buy it." And when he bought the pearl of great price, people must have thought that he had lost his mind. They didn't understand that the pearl was priceless, that it was a bargain whatever the cost, that finding it was the ultimate reward for a lifetime of searching, that owning it was his dream come true.

John was from Hawaii but was sent to Japan to learn Japanese and Japanese culture. Because he was in Japan at the beginning of World War II, he had to remain there for the duration of the war. When he came home after the war, the first thing he had to learn was English. He was sent to the Hawaiian Mission Academy, and like the day laborer who accidentally found hidden treasure in the field, John found Christianity in addition to learning English. He wanted to come to church on Sabbath. But as soon as his parents found he was interested in becoming a Seventh-day Adventist, they sent him to a public school, and arranged for him to go to another church.

Several months later, John called me and asked for me to meet him at the Academy after classes were over. We sat in my car and talked. He told me that he had found the pearl of great price, and he wanted to obtain it. I told him that it could mean that he would have to leave his home, and asked him if he was prepared for that. He said he was. I told him he could stay with my family.

He went home that day and told his parents about his decision. They were outraged and angry and told him to pack up and leave immediately. When he got his suitcase and started to pack, his parents realized he meant business and their threat was not going to stop him. I was called to his home, and was confronted by an outraged father. I attempted to make it clear that it was not something my church or I was forcing John to do. It was his own decision, and it was not within my power to make him change his mind. John stood by his decision and later was baptized. He knew the value of the pearl of great price and sold everything he had to purchase it.

Unlike John, some people are satisfied with a fake pearl. It looks good, costs infinitely less, and fools all but the most discerning. Some are indifferent to advice and council and walk away ignorant of the pearl's priceless value. Some work hard to purchase the pearls of wealth, fame, and honor, that prove to be without value in and of themselves. Others want the real thing, but turn away because of the high cost. The rich young ruler found the pearl of great price, but when he was told that it would cost all that he had, he went away sorrowfully.

The treasure and the pearl in these parables cost everything. Christ makes it clear that the price is the same for the poor laborer and the rich merchantman. Discipleship means giving all that we are and all that we possess to be used to further God's Kingdom. In doing this we "purchase" the priceless treasure and the pearl of great price--forgiveness of sin, peace with God, a meaningful and abundant life in this world, and eternal life in the next. Christ said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you."

Jim Elliott, a missionary who died in his attempt to evangelize the Auca Indians, wrote in his diary, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep for that which he cannot lose."

1. Glen Calkins, "The Ministry of Reconciliation", The Ministry, August, 1952, p. 4

2. Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, Little, Brown and Company, 1956,pp. 32-45.

3. Ibid., p. 41

4. Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (revised ed., Charles Scribner's Sons,1963), p. 199.

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