A 1957 Fender Stratocaster will set you back somewhere between $10,000 and $25,000. Just to be clear, I don’t own one. I knew a guy, though, who owned some fantastic vintage guitars–although nothing quite that extraordinary. The weird thing is that Dale wasn’t that great a guitar player, and he was chronically broke. In fact, at one point he found himself on the cusp of bankruptcy and set about hiding his guitars so that they wouldn’t get sold to help discharge a portion of his debts.
Here’s an example of a person who spent a great deal of money on something that made absolutely no sense for him to buy. Instead of taking care of his finances, he just couldn’t stop buying guitars and other music gear.
To the outside world, that’s what it must look like when a Christian takes the kingdom of God seriously. Jesus told us, in Matthew 6:33, to seek first the kingdom. Then he used a thick flurry of parables to help us understand precisely what it was we were to seek.
Immediately after the “buried treasure” parable, we find the parable of the pearl or the “pearl of great price.”
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.–Matthew 13:45-46
On first blush, this parable looks like an exact parallel of the buried treasure one. Somebody found something that was incredibly valuable and then sacrificed everything to ensure that they possessed that something. But that’s on first blush.
There are some major differences between these two parables. First of all, in the first, the kingdom is the valuable thing. In the second, the kingdom is the person who finds it. So which is it? Can Jesus not keep his stories straight? It would have been simple for Him to simply say that the kingdom is the pearl, but He didn’t. I think this is because it is not as simple as saying that the kingdom is the valuable thing or the person who finds it. It’s a combination of them.
The other big difference is that the merchant seems to be making a bad financial choice. If you find a hidden treasure and buy it, you can then sell the treasure and make a big profit. If you buy the priceless pearl at a market price you can’t really hope to sell it at a profit anytime soon. Having sold everything he had, what’s the merchant going to do?
We learn a couple of new things about the kingdom from this parable.
- The kingdom, while incredibly valuable, probably will not look good to an accountant. It’s not reducible to dollars and cents.
- The kingdom is a relational thing. Its value comes when God and human come together in it.
What makes a guitar valuable? A serious player could tell the difference between the 1957 Stratocaster and today’s model in a moment. But could they explain that difference? Probably not. It’s a guitar thing. You wouldn’t understand.