The parables of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price are back to back in the book of Matthew. Both stories are prefaced with “The kingdom of heaven is like,” and both stories seem to tell the same tale. Someone finds something of great value and gives up everything to possess it. Like many people, I have always interpreted both of them to mean the same thing: when people find Jesus, they will give up everything worldly to follow Him. But recently I came across another interpretation for the pearl story that is also worth examining.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price
Unlike the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, in which a man just happens upon some treasure, in the parable of the pearl of great price, a merchant is actively searching for something very specific. He is an expert in pearls and knows exactly what he is looking for. When he finds the most precious one, he must have it. He goes away and sells everything he has to buy that one pearl.
In the typical interpretation, the pearl is salvation in Jesus Christ, the same as the treasure. But why a pearl and not a ruby or a diamond? And why repeat the same exact idea twice in a row? What if, instead of the pearl being Jesus Christ, Jesus is the merchant?
Jesus is the Merchant
Jesus is the one who does the seeking. In Luke 19:10, it says, “…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He is the expert. He knows what He is doing. In fact, people aren’t even able to accept Him without God’s intervention, much less seek Him for themselves. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus actively pursues us. He chooses us. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “ But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
He seeks us, He chooses us, and He buys us with the greatest possible payment: His own life. We are precious to Him, bought with a price. We are His beloved bride. That makes the pearl in this parable the church. Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
The Church is the Pearl
As most people know, pearls are the only jewels that come from a living organism. They come from oysters. A pearl is made when something foreign, called an irritant, gets into the oyster’s shell and injures the soft tissue there. Instead of ejecting the particle, the oyster begins to coat it with something called “nacre,” a shiny, iridescent substance that we know of as pearl. Layer upon layer is secreted onto the nucleus, that original piece of debris, until the beautiful pearl is fully formed.
Think about it. The center of the pearl is some sort of debris, like dust or dirt. When God created Adam, He formed him out of the dust of the earth. The dirt hurts the oyster, much like original sin hurt God. It damages its flesh, like the marring of the skin of Jesus Christ at His crucifixion. Instead of ejecting the debris, thrusting it out and away from itself, the oyster’s solution was to cover over the painful object with its own substance. Layer upon layer of pearl covers over the dirt until that irritant is slowly transformed into something beautiful and valuable.
We are the dirt: the foolish, weak, and base. After we are saved, the process of sanctification begins. Over time, reading the Word of God and applying it to ourselves, learning to hear God’s voice and obey, and spending time in the presence of God, we start to mature in Christ. He transforms us. We start to be less and less like our dirt-y self and more and more like our priceless Savior.
Ephesians 25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
Jesus spoke in parables so that those who would seek to know the truth would be able to discern it, while those who were indifferent would not understand. Some, He explained to His disciples. Some, like the pearl of great price, He left for us to discern for ourselves. When we read with the help of the Holy Spirit, the Bible is like a treasure map, leading us to precious nuggets of wisdom from above. And that, like the pearl, is priceless.
If you to look closely at scripture, try Three Simple Instructions From God to Us. In it, we look at Hebrews 3-4. Or, try Twinkly Trash: A Closer Look at Job 28. Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.
Special thanks to a dear brother in Christ for suggesting I look into this topic. Please check out his YouTube channel at Michael Samuel Smith where he looks at the prophetic story of Israel.