Parable of the Merchant and the Pearl

The Merchant and the Pearl

My older brother loves him some analogies. There is a unique glee that comes over his face whenever he finds a clever analogy to explain something. He especially likes using funny details from our hometown or people from my high school to help me grasp the subtle nuances in a story that would otherwise elude me. Usually because the story is about sports.

This particular way of communicating must have been given to him straight from on high because Jesus loved him some analogies too.

In this parable from Matthew, Jesus uses an analogy involving a merchant and a pearl to help describe to his followers what the kingdom of heaven is like.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. -Matthew 13:45-46

Frankly,  I had assumed I knew what this parable meant.

I had always assumed this parable was a way for Jesus to tell us that He is a treasure. That He is the pearl in the parable, worth giving everything up to follow. That the kingdom of heaven is about recognizing true worth.  I think that interpretation is fairly common and not wrong.

But as I was working on this drawing I came across another interpretation that I had never heard before that was really compelling. This interpretation casts God not as the pearl, but as the merchant.

Which makes the pearl…(drumroll)…. us.

I thought this interpretation worked really well the more I read about it for several reasons that I won’t go into here (unless you want to know and if so I’ll put them in the comments section.)

Suffice it to say, it was when I read about the significance of the pearl itself that sold me.

Pearls are the only gemstone made from a living organism. They are the result of a tiny grain of sand infiltrating the shell and piercing the oyster, causing it to excrete this slimy substance called nacre to encase the grain.  Year after year, the oyster releases this substance around the grain, building up around it, slowly transforming it. Year after year, layer after layer, the grain slowly disappears in the nacre until it is a different object entirely. Eventually the oyster is lifted up out of the depths of the ocean, out of the darkness into the light where the pearl is revealed, shown off and appreciated.  beautiful treasure born from suffering. 

I found that really interesting. Why would Jesus, who does not mince words, use a pearl to describe himself? Yes, he suffered and died and is a beautiful treasure. But He also did not need to be transformed into anything because He was already holy and divine. It made more sense to me that He would use the pearl as an analogy to describe us. We, who are daily being transformed and conformed into the image of Christ through sharing in his sufferings. 

Isn’t that interesting? That Jesus, so clever.

Either way- it was interesting to think about as I drew this. My take away is that I am so appreciative that Jesus uses analogies to teach you and me. And to lovingly continue to teach me for the times when I assume I already know it all.

 

 

2 Responses to Parable of the Merchant and the Pearl

  1. Susan Aurora February 21, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    This work is even more beautiful with your reflection! Thanks Nat! oxox Susan

  2. Scott Marquardt January 23, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    Our identity — the white stone in Revelation.

    Much in scripture attests to the exchange of oneself for a new self; your reading is not at all a marginal one. Jim Elliot summed it up well: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” It turns out, in his journal, that he was doing a riff on Luke 16:9 — which really makes that quote mesh with your note above.

    But we really do cling to our old identity. To be “no fool,” though, we must give it up.

    Jim has his white stone already, I guess. :-)

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