Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Pearl

"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. " Matthew 13:45

Years ago I read the novella "The Pearl" by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors, which is probably why I never like any other author's descriptions ("Who do they think they are? Steinbeck?? They should stop this feeble attempt at describing the guy's shirt and move on with the plot!") and why all the obscenities I heard in the halls of various inner city schools never phased me when I taught there.

Anyway, like many Steinbeck stories, "The Pearl" focuses on the greediness of human nature. The story is set in a small native village near the sea. The main character, Kino, is a poor fisherman who lives with his common law wife, Juana, in a hut near the sea. He and Juana have an infant son, Coyotito. The story begins with a scorpion sting to Coyotito that sends Kino and Juana to find medical help, help which is refused them because they have no money to pay the doctor.

They take to searching the sea for pearls in hope to find enough to pay the doctor to save the life of their son. Later that morning, Kino finds what he calls, "The Pearl of the World." The pearl, he is certain, will bring lasting comfort and stability, and he can use the money to heal his son, legally marry his wife and provide for his family.

However, his plans to sell the pearl are ruined as none of the buyers in the local town are willing to pay anywhere near what Kino would expect. Juana wants him to sell it anyway, certain that it will bring bad things to their lives if they keep it. Her insights were not just instinct, as not long after finding the pearl, Kino and Juana bring fellow villagers into their hut to see it. They expect their friends and family to be happy for their find. Instead, it aroused in them a desire to own the pearl as well. Not long after finding it, Kino, Coyotito (who had been healed by the doctor) and Juana are, basically, running for their life.

Eventually, they realize that the pearl is not worth the suffering, but by the time Kino realizes that it's too late. Trackers, wanting to obtain the pearl, have followed them to a cave near the ocean. Kino hides both Juana and Coyotito in the cave, and only he plans to surprise the trackers and kill them (he had already killed another person at this point). While he is stalking the trackers, they shoot toward what they thought was a coyote. Kino does kill the three trackers, but returns to the cave to find out that the trackers had killed Coyotito.

So, he found "The Pearl of the World" but it brought him nothing but grief, and cost him what was actually the most valuable thing in his life. That's why I like Steinbeck. He makes me think. He really understood human nature, but sadly, he didn't understand God or grace...

I was thinking about that in light of the "Pearl of Great Value" (Although that name for it makes it sound like one you might find at Sam's Club.)

The Pearl has a totally different kind of value. It has the kind of value that Coyotito had -- the kind of value that is worth getting rid of all you have in order to obtain it. And yet, it's seems like human nature to sacrifice The Pearl for the Pearl of the World, just like Kino did.

So, then, where is the value in The Pearl? It's finding the kingdom of heaven, and then living a life in the kingdom, despite what other kingdoms might surround you. It makes me think of the times that Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is at hand." and how I think that means that the Kingdom of God is near us, with us, and it's our job to live like it is. I think that must require a different value system than the other kingdoms around us.

So, I've traded worldly kingdoms, for Christ's Kingdom, and I've traded the Pearl of the World for The Pearl. Or, at least I try to live in that mindset. What does that mean on a practical level? Well, I gave up having a big house, new clothes, lots of working computers (we currently have a multitude of awkwardly working computers that are in various stages of repair), money for hobbies (except blogging -- it's free!), having a "career", spending my days with adults, and being paid for all my great insight and advice. At the times when I've made choices to give things up, it seemed really big. But then, once the sacrifice was made and the reward was given, it wasn't such a big deal after all, because of the things that are of value in Christ's Kingdom.

So far, then, I've gained so much, and I'm not even to the heavenly reward part. This has gotten me to ponder what I would have needed to give up in order to obtain "The Pearl of the World". So, without further ado, here is my list of what I would have never had if I had been pursuing the wrong pearl:

1) I wouldn't have the healthy family relationships I now have
2) The words, "Put your leg on" would not be normal to me
3) I wouldn't have had personal experience with both the Ukrainian Secret Police and the Kazkh mafia (no, I'm not a double agent)
4) I wouldn't have seen the miracle of my oldest daughter's recovery from surgery
5) I wouldn't have seen the real miracle of God healing her heart from years of institutional life and bringing her to love Him
6) I wouldn't know all of my children so well that I can recognize them by their footsteps
7) I wouldn't know my neighbors as I do
8) My friends would not be nearly so eclectic
9) I wouldn't know myself as well as I do (even the things I would rather not know about myself!)
10) I wouldn't have a solid purpose with an ever-changing adventure from knowing Jesus

So, when I look at the value of each pearl, I'm totally aware of which one is better, and thankful that Jesus made it possible for me to obtain The Pearl. I also feel a lot of sadness for people who never stop pursuing "The Pearl of the World." They have no idea what they're missing.

No comments: