- The Good Samaritan
- The Lost Sheep
- The Sheep and the Goats
- The Wise and Foolish Builders (building your house on solid foundations or on sand).
- It often made it harder for his critics to ‘catch him out’ – it was difficult to argue that a story was teaching heresy, when the supposedly problematic meaning was in the hearers’ interpretation!
- It made his teaching easy to remember (and to pass on, in an oral culture), and
- “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Jesus said as much in Matthew 13 – he spoke in parables so that some people wouldn’t get it! His disciples were often asking him to help them understand the meaning.
A parable is also a great vehicle for God to use to personally speak into the lives of those listening – that’s why a ‘picture’ is often more effective than a statement of truth and why we value pictures God gives, in ministry times. Pictures – and hence, parables – stir us to ask
- What does this mean to me?
- What is God saying to me through this story?
- What’s the application in my life?
Often, a parable was not just a ‘picture’ – or at least, not in a static, ‘snapshot’ sense. It was often a story. It’s likely that the parables we have in the gospels are summaries of what were longer stories when they were originally told. Stories are great ways of communicating. I wish I was better at telling stories. All the best preachers tell great stories. People love stories, for lots of good reasons.
The subjects of Jesus’ parables were everyday events that would be familiar to people in their daily lives. And although some of the imagery is a bit lost on us today, it’s amazing how much of it still speaks to us – even if our daily life doesn’t consist of sheep and goats, sowing seed in fields or making bread with yeast.
All the parables in Jesus’ teaching are in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and there are 37 of them in total – some appear in all three Gospels, some in two, and some in just one.
So what I thought I’d share in this blog is just one of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven – same thing). I love all the ‘Kingdom’ parables! But this is a parable I’ve really been reflecting on a lot, in the past couple of months.
Keep in mind as we look at it, that Jesus is not saying something about the ‘Kingdom’ so much as saying something about us in relation to the Kingdom. The parables are not about the Kingdom in some technical or academic sense. He’s not offering information about the Kingdom, he’s speaking about the Kingdom in us and about us in the Kingdom.
This is why, if we really want to see the Kingdom come in revival, it starts with me. If we want to be a Church that’s hallmarked by the presence of the Kingdom, it starts with the presence of the Kingdom (the ‘rule and reign of God’) in each of us, individually, and with what we individually commit to the Kingdom as a result of that. If we want to see the Kingdom coming in our town, then it starts with the Kingdom coming in us. Saying “yes” to the rule and reign of God in me.
Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. We’re the challenge, not the harvest (the Lord of the Harvest sees to that bit). The more the rule and reign of God is happening in my life, the more lives will be impacted by the Kingdom through me. And the opposite is true, too.
That means the rule and reign of God in:
- My heart attitudes,
- My time,
- My money
- My generosity, and
- My priorities
So let’s look at the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Matthew 13:45-46.
‘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.’
A very short but very profound parable.
The interesting thing, to me, in this parable is that it’s about a pearl merchant. Someone who spends their life chasing pearls and investing in pearls. He already owns lots of lovely pearls. He already has lots of other pearls in his life – and that is the source of his challenge!
Because one day, he finds a pearl that is worth all the rest put together. He finds a pearl of great value that he wants more than anything else. The question he has to answer is simple: am I willing to ‘sell off’ all the other pearls in my life in order to to get it? Do I really value it that much?
Or am I looking for a cost-free way of having this great pearl? Do I only want to have it if it doesn’t cost me anything?
Bear in mind we’re talking about pearls here – the whole conversation is about pearls. Not worthless things. It’s not about foregoing worthless things in order to get a precious thing. Those pearls in the pearl merchant’s life are already precious and valuable to him.
The question is how much more valuable to him is the Kingdom pearl, compared to all his other pearls?
Think for a moment: what are the precious pearls in your life? Job? Savings? Leisure? Expensive holidays? Bigger house? New car? The consumer dream?
Are you willing to ‘sell’ any of those other pearls – in other words, are you willing to see any of those impacted – for the sake of the Kingdom? Or are those all ‘off-limits’?
Jesus said, in Mark 8:35: ‘Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.’ (NKJV) Or as the Living Bible puts it: ‘If you insist on saving your life, you will lose it. Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live.’
Dare I add 'family' to the list above (perhaps better characterized as the extent, or prioritization, of ‘time spent with family’ compared to what else we invest our time in – obviously no-one’s saying “sell the family”)?
In that context, it’s worth meditating on Jesus’ seemingly astonishing statement in Matthew 10:37: ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’
Interestingly, that’s immediately followed by this, in the very next verse: ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’ (And then follows the Matthean parallel to Mark 8:35.)
What’s the Kingdom worth to us? How valuable is that pearl, compared to our other pearls? Is it worth ‘throwing away my life for Jesus’ sake’ to find out what it means to really live?
The Gospel of the Kingdom was never about bolting on a religious component to a way of life that otherwise stays largely the same.
It was never about me just changing my beliefs, without those beliefs ever actually changing how I live, how I spend my time, my priorities, and what I do with my money. Getting people to believe the right things is not the reason Jesus came to die.
The idea of revival “coming soon to a place near you” isn’t something that can be detached from how much we want it and are willing for it to cost us. That’s the message of this parable.