Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Seekers and the pearl of great price

Matthew 13:45-46
"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."
This parable bothers me. It is a story that has clearly been distilled down to its essence before it ended up in the gospel, but even given that, this is only half a story. What happens next? The merchant has nothing but a pearl. No food, no house, no clothes (other than those he is wearing, I suppose), etc. Nothing but a pearl. The options are basically that either the merchant goes on to sell the pearl (at a profit, this is his job, after all!) or he keeps the pearl but has nothing to live on and so, ultimately, dies. Neither of these options are the point of the parable, as it is preached in many sermons, and probably as it was originally intended. The point, surely, is that the pearl is worth giving everything else up for. But it is actually a pretty poor parable for that. The immediately preceding parable in Matthew is much better as there the man in the story finds treasure in a field, buys the field, and hence becomes rich. This one doesn't really seem like a well thought through parable, not very divinely inspired.

But it leads me on to thinking about 'seeking' and 'finding'. Have you ever been in a 'seeker friendly' church? The word 'seeker' is generally used in a positive sense by Christians to refer to a non-Christian who is looking for spiritual fulfilment. A seeker friendly church is one which avoids anything which might put the 'seeker' off the idea of church, so is welcoming, modern, warm, avoids too much ceremony, generally plays contemporary worship music, etc. Behind the idea is that once the seeker finds Jesus, they will stop seeking, and stay in the church.

In some ways, I think I'm a seeker who has carried on 'seeking' beyond the church. The church can't really cope with that, of course. It assumes that there can't be anything greater or better, but it has never actually looked. Once upon a time I found a pearl of apparent great price. But ultimately I found it to be unsatisfying, and very possibly a fake - although a very attractive and impressive fake. I don't want to sell the pearl on, but I've come to realise that there probably is a greater pearl out there, somewhere else. The merchant in the parable doesn't know if the pearl he has found is the greatest pearl there is, he doesn't look. 

Surely, in the quest for truth, even if you think you have found something of value, you never know if you have found everything, so you have to keep seeking? Anything else is just giving up.

I looked under chairs
I looked under tables
I'm tryin to find the key
To fifty million fables
They call me the seeker
I been searchin low and high
I won't get to get what I'm after
Till the day I die
The Who - The Seeker (1970)

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