Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mat 13: The Pearl of Great Price - the poor

After translating this parable I'll never look at margaritas the same way.[see verse 45, the Greek word for pearl] In all seriousness though, what is this pearl supposed to represent, and what is Jesus recommending we actually do here about the Kingdom of God? Asking these simple yet profound questions puts us a lot closer to the truth here than one might suspect. This entire chapter, including the story about Jesus' family immediately preceding and following are all held together by a single thought, a single application.

First, consider both the beauty and deliberateness of the way the topics discussed are organized. Almost every scene has a twin. Jesus' family is standing (notice the unusual Greek tense here) outside, but aren't his true family. Likewise, the crowd is standing (same tense) on the shore while Jesus speaks to them in cryptic parables. First Jesus explains the parable of the four soils, then he explains the parable of the wheat and tears. Twice it says that his use of parables fulfills scripture. The parable of the mustard seed is paired with the parable of the permeating yeast. The parable about selling everything for a hidden treasure is mirrored by selling everything in the parable of the sought after pearl. Even the angels who separate the good from the evil in the parable of the wheat and tears are repeated again in the parable of the net that catches both good and bad fish. Finally, we come full circle again to a mention of Jesus' family, in the mouth of those from his hometown who scoff at his wisdom and take offense at what he says.

This entire section is a unified whole, talking about the same thing - the way we listen to Jesus. It challenges us in whether we lean in and ask for explanations, or whether we are content to be standing on the shore with the crowd who gets confusing parables, scratching their heads in consternation. The crowd was a stones throw from Jesus, but miles from understanding him. We even get to see an entire town listen to Jesus and take offense at him for no other reason that they were familiar with him. Think soil. They thought they knew him and therefore could not bring themselves to accept his message. And what does the text say of them? Few miracles could be done for them.

But what I would like to chew on for a moment is the "selling everything" in two of these parables. We know that Jesus on at least one occasion told a rich man to "sell everything, give it to the poor, and then follow him." We also know that in the book of Acts a married couple sold their property and purportedly gave all the money to the apostles. We also know that those following Jesus around the country had little need for their homes while they traveled. Before we pour out half this strong drink, and let its heat grow tepid before it touches our tongue, what if Jesus was seriously suggesting that people embrace his kingdom by cashing out of this world's monetary system, literally?

How's that seed growing? Do we find ourselves wrestling like the soils in these parables do with the seed they receive? Maybe we should be. In the rest of the Bible we find Christians who have church in their homes, who earn and spend money, who support families and ministries simultaneously. Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. Am I suggesting that we all give everything to the poor? No. But what I'm fearful of is that we become so fearful of the loss of our money that we no longer mention the ideal of discipleship that Jesus set. A semblance of it is retained in Roman Catholicism in the vow of poverty taken by priest who become wholly dependent on the church for sustenance and wholly committed to its service.

The way we listen affects how much God ever explains to us. I'm challenged by this parable to dig deeper into my studies of what Jesus meant and to spend more of my resources on the poor. It's one thing to say that I'm sold out for Jesus. It's quite another to have nothing but Jesus. The wallet which does not invest in this world has a heart fixed upon another world, another kingdom, a kingdom worth every cent and cell we possess.

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