Angel Manuel Rodriguez, Director, Biblical Research Institute, General Conference Headquarters, Silver Spring, Maryland

Summary: Jesus told a story about pearls and used it as a foil to describe the nature of the Christian experience. The story is about a merchant of fine pearls. In this short story, Jesus shares with us his understanding of human existence and the nature of discipleship.

An unusual find

The biggest pearl in the world was owned by an archaeologist, Wilburn D. Cobb. It was found in a Philippine river by a Moslem tribal chief who named it the Pearl of Allah. He gave it to Cobb for curing his child of malaria. It is the size of a football, weighs fourteen pounds, and is valued at $50 million. The present owner bought it from Cobb for $200,000. This precious pearl will continue to change hands because, in the final analysis, it does not permanently belong to any body. It is a piece of property.

Jesus told a story about pearls and used it as a foil to describe the nature of the Christian experience (Mt 13:45-46). The story is about a merchant of fine pearls. In this short story, Jesus shares with us his understanding of human existence and the nature of discipleship.

Human potential for discipleship

It is common among Protestants to speak about the total depravity of human nature, meaning that, unaided by the power of God, humans are under the dominion of sin. Jesus chose to emphasize a positive aspect of human existence. According to him, humans are merchants, implying by this that humans have assets, resources, and that to be alive is to be involved in a constant investment of that capital. They are day and night investing their lives, time, and their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energies. They spend themselves and all they possess in the business of life. Human beings indeed have a capital, a God-given potential.

This business-like existence is nothing else than the expression of a deep and disturbing human uneasiness with respect to life. Humans, says Jesus, are by nature inquisitive, restless creatures, persistently searching, seeking. Since they are never totally satisfied with what they are and have, they spend their existence investing. It is true that this inquisitiveness has led to important scientific discoveries and great technological advances. But living in a state of dissatisfaction, in a constant search, in a frenetic investment of life, has created in humans a state of anxiety and fear. This existential condition can only be altered through the saving power of Christ. The human capital can be put in his service.

Human search and discipleship

In the parable, Jesus surprises us when he describes humans as investors seeking only what is good and valuable; they seek good pearls. There are false and cultivated pearls, and they all have some relative value. But the merchant is interested in buying ?good? pearls. At the very core of the human heart there is a desire for the good and beautiful, for that which would enrich human beings and would make it possible for them to become what they were intended to be. It is true that in that search for the good and noble humans very often invest in what is evil and harvest wickedness. But at the same time this desire for the good, placed in the human heart by God, makes possible the success of the gospel and the possibility of developing disciples for the Lord.

The One who put in the human heart the longing and the search for the good, made available to us the good, the supreme good. The merchant found the unanticipated, what he did not know he was searching for. He thought he was seeking good pearls, but he was unconsciously hoping to find the Supreme Pearl, the Pearl of Great Value. Since the discovery was unexpected, one could almost say that the Pearl found him. He was captivated by the beauty of this previously un-imaginable Pearl. Had he been told about it, he would not have believed it; but there it was, right before him. This would be his last investment, because the Pearl would not devalue. On the contrary, it would increase in value and in value to the merchant. This is the heart of the parable: The uniqueness of the Pearl captivated the heart and mind of the merchant.

Humans as disciples

There was a criminal sentenced to life in prison. At first he dreamed about freedom and the possibility of leaving the prison. After forty years in jail, he was offered what he had anxiously waited for, freedom; but he rejected it. The prison had become his home. His last investment was a voluntary life in prison. This was not the case with the merchant in Christ’s parable. He saw what he needed and decided to acquire it at any cost. Overwhelmed by the beauty and quality of the Pearl, he inquired about its cost. It was very costly.

The merchant examined his bank account, his cash flow, his investments in real estate, his retirement funds; he added everything he had and realized that in order to appropriate this Pearl he would have to give up all he had. He had to surrender it all! This is what discipleship is all about. People can join the church through baptism, but unless they surrender all to the Lord, the Great Pearl, they have not become His disciples.

This man ?bought? the Pearl! He did not loan it or lease it in order to place it among his other pearls and display it for a few days. He owned this most wonderful Pearl. In the light of this Great Pearl all of his other pearls lost their luster and beauty, and he disposed of them. This was indeed his last investment; his capital had been well invested. His assets were now placed in the service of the Lord.

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July–September, 2005

Discipleship