The Pearl of Great Price

Romans 8:26-34; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he mentions our predestination, “those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

There is a great comfort here for us Christians. The work of our salvation was begun by God himself. It is continued — it is worked out — by God himself. And it will be completed by God himself. We don’t have to worry. We can rest. This is our eternal Sabbath. We can leave off all doubts and worry about our salvation and rest. God can handle his business and he will.

But this little bit of Paul’s correspondence has caused a lot of confusion for a lot of Christians. Who are the ones that have been predestined? It can seem that God just arbitrarily picked some of us to save and decided to let the others perish. Am I predestined to salvation? What about the people I love? What about the people who’ve just never heard about Jesus?

Paul’s original audience wouldn’t have worried about these questions. Paul was Jewish.  And his talk about predestination presupposed the Jewish ideas of predestination and election. Namely: God chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob and all of Jacob’s descendants to be the ones through whom he would reveal himself to the world. In like manner, God has chosen Jesus and all who are united to him — that is, the world-wide Church — to be the ones through whom he continues to reveal himself to the world and through whom he reconciles the world to himself.

If we ever doubt our election, we can remember our baptism and commit ourselves to living out our baptism in faithfulness.

By the way, the question of whether we are saved through our faith or through our baptism is a bit like asking whether Isaac was related to Abraham by blood or by birth. I mean, the two go together, you know?

But anyway: Jesus told two stories about the Kingdom of Heaven that kind of show this. The story about the treasure in the field and the story about the pearl of great price look kind of like they’re the same story. But if you look closely, there’s a subtle difference that makes a great difference.

Here they are: In the first one, Jesus says that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.” In the second one, he says that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

So the plot’s pretty much the same. The difference is that in the first one, the Kingdom is like a treasure that gets found, but in the second one, the Kingdom is like a merchant who goes looking.

In the first one the Kingdom is the treasure. In the second one, we are the treasure.

The first story is about us discovering the Kingdom, about us submitting ourselves faithfully to God as King, following him in the path of humility, living under his reign of justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Living this kind of life is so valuable that a person could give up his entire life and still be unable to buy it. That’s why the guy in the story had to be a little shady. He couldn’t afford the treasure, so he buried it and bought the whole field from the unsuspecting landowner. Make of that what what will. But the main point is, we’ve found this thing, the Kingdom of Heaven, and it’s worth giving up everything else to get it.

The second story, though, says that the Kingdom of Heaven is a merchant looking for pearls and when he finds one, he’ll sell everything he has just to be able to buy it. We Christians can recognize that this is the story of Jesus himself who gave up everything — poured out his life unto death — just to buy us back (which is what the word “redeemed” means.

God’s Kingdom is valuable to us. We are just as valuable to him.

God is both a treasure and the one looking for a treasure. We are both the ones who find a treasure and also a treasure.

This is the same story as the one Paul is telling. The ones that God found  (those who are joined to Jesus, the ones he foreknew)  he predestined (that is, he made up his mind beforehand) to be conformed or made into the same form as his Son. God has made up his mind to make us Christians to be exactly like Jesus. So that, instead of there just being one Man who fully lived out the will of God, there would be a whole slew of us; made by grace to be what He is by nature.

And then he does what he made up his mind to do.

God declares us to be right when we commit ourselves to following Jesus — the true King of the world. And he makes us into a treasure — he glorifies us. That is, he has decided that we are valuable enough to sell everything just to buy us; like a merchant selling everything to purchase just one perfect pearl.

But remember what St. Paul said. Our salvation is not just about being rescued from God’s wrath against sin. It’s not even just to rescue us from sin itself. It’s much more. He has determined to make us into the exact image of Jesus. And at least part of being conformed to the image of the Son means that we have a job to do.

God elected Abraham. He blessed Abraham. But he also said that all of the Gentiles would be blessed in him.

God elected Jesus. He blessed Jesus, saying, “you are my son in whom I am well pleased.” But he also determined to make him the first-born among many brethren.

God has elected us who are in Christ. He has blessed us, saying, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” But he has elected us to do a job: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;” “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them;” “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works that these will he do;” “Go…and make disciples of all nations.” He’s made us a royal priesthood, giving us the job of revealing God to the world and reconciling the world to God. He’s chosen us out of the world like a sourdough starter, not so we can sit and mold on a shelf, but so we can be put back into the world like a woman hiding her leaven in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.

We do this by seeking peace and pursuing it — peace within ourselves, peace with our neighbors, peace among nations. Until the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord like the waters cover the sea.