“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.” (Mt. 13:45-46)
The interpretation of this parable of Jesus that I have always heard is that God, or Jesus Christ, is the Pearl of Great Price, and we are like the Merchant. We need to follow Jesus’ call to “Sell all that you have…come and follow me.” (Mt. 19:21) Several old hymns reinforce this idea, such as a beautiful translation of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude.” And there is something to be said for this idea: clearly Christ is valuable, the most valuable thing in the world and out of the world – “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:33)
But there are problems with this interpretation – if we are the merchant, this makes it sound like we are searching for God until we find Him, then getting Him because we give something as payment. But, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:11) And of course, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)
I’ve become fascinated by the possibility that this parable is actually talking about the way that God pursues us: He’s the merchant and we are the pearl. There is good Biblical support for this idea too. The old hymnwriter Charles Wesely wrote about the great price Christ paid: He “Emptied himself of all but love.” We are told, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8) The image of God as a merchant who values me so much as to give up all He has to gain me…that moves me, changes my heart.
Whatever the correct interpretation is of this parable, the point about God pursuing us is true. “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10) This also changes my perspective on passages like Eph. 5: 25-27: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” I think that your life as a Christian is defined by God pursuing you, not by you pursuing God; by God valuing you rather than you valuing God; and by God the Son gaining us as a Bride more so than us gaining Him as a savior.
Relish this, revel in it, let it soothe, heal and transform you into the person whom God will enjoy for eternity. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19)