Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pearl of Great Price

A Morning Prayers Reflection
Appleton Chapel -- Saturday, April 12, 2014
The Rev. Dr. John Oakes

[Jesus said] “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt. 13:44-46 - NRSV) 

Back in the mid-1970s, I had to work quite hard to win a scholarship to Oxford, but not that hard. And if you’d asked me how I’d built my resume, I‘d probably have needed a definition of that phrase. I don’t remember producing a CV at all until I hit the London job market in my 20s! 

But the academic world, like so many others, can be a lot more competitive nowadays. Few who go anywhere like Harvard get there without making sacrifices. And if we have serious career ambitions, the pattern tends to continue throughout our lives. 

That’s one of the reasons why I find this morning’s reading from Matthew 13 so relevant and so challenging, because it raises the questions of ambition and sacrifice in a very thought-provoking way. 

Jesus has been teaching about the "kingdom of heaven," or the “Kingdom of God.” The general biblical premise is that God has always been sovereign. But in the New Testament Jesus presents his own mission and ministry as signifying the advent of God's rule or reign in a powerful new way.. 

He claims to be introducing a new age or era, when people can find reconciliation with God in and through him. And one of the main points that Jesus stresses in today's reading really flows from that. For this Kingdom, he says, is "like treasure hidden in a field.” It’s like a “pearl of great price.”

We don't need to be treasure-hunters, or in the jewelry business, to understand what Jesus is driving at here. He is talking about something of great value - so valuable that it justifies the kind of behavior exemplified by the treasure-seeker and the jeweler, who sell everything they have to get what they want. 

The big question, I guess, is what all this has to do with us. And that can bring us back to issues of ambition and sacrifice, because we all know that there’s much more to life than our academic, career or even family achievements. Why else would we be here on a sunny Saturday morning? 

So what are we truly seeking spiritually? What are our goals and how much are we prepared to give up for them? These are important questions. And in response, our reading from Matthew 13 suggests that Jesus himself has the answer. For he offers nothing less than the ultimate treasure, the pearl of great price to all who will welcome the coming of God’s reign in him. 

As a Christian minister, you’d probably expect me to say something like this today. And I will gladly do so, because I have personally found the ambition of following Jesus to be much more worthwhile than any other, and that has been true, whatever the sacrifice.

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