Jesus told a parable about a merchant who found a “pearl of great value” for which he was willing to give up all his other possessions. He knew kings and emperors in eastern lands who would pay a fortune for such a fine jewel, and if he possessed it, he could name his price.
We can envision this large, perfectly spherical, exquisitely colored natural wonder. Where did it come from? Well, it was a found in a clam or an oyster in the shallows of the Mediterranean Sea. A villager opened one of the shellfish he had gathered to feed his family, and there it was, a miraculous gift to him from God. He used it to pay his overdue rent to his landlord, who saw the value and schemed to maximize his profits.
We know now that pearls are not supernaturally planted in shellfish as part of a miracle lottery run by God. They are formed by the animal’s immune reaction when a foreign object becomes lodged inside its shell. It secrets chemicals which surround the object with layer upon layer of calcium carbonate deposits. What is formed around the unwanted impurity is, in a sense, a shell of its own which isolates it and keeps it from causing any harm to the animal’s soft tissue. The outer layers are composed of nacre, the strong, smooth iridescent material we recognize in a pearl.
Today, “cultivated pearls” are produced easily and cheaply by companies that purposely put foreign object in places within the shells of oysters or clams where they can’t be easily expelled. The shellfish responds in the way its ancestors did in Jesus’ day, by building layer upon layer of calcium carbonate until a pearly is formed. However, cultured pearls don’t match the quality of natural pearls for quality, luster and value.
Do you know someone whose life seems like a “pearl of great value,” perfectly formed and lustrous? You can be sure some foreign object, some unwelcome experience, maybe a serious failure, or even a stubborn, recurring sin is at the center of that pearl. Since this person is spiritually alive, the Holy Spirit within automatically set in motion an immune response. Layer after layer of confession and forgiveness, of pain and healing, of relapse and renewal have been built up into this perfect spiritual sphere. And repeated hard life experiences have polished the gleaming coat of nacre that so attracted your attention to this gem.
If you want to be a “pearl of great value,” you should expect some foreign object to really be a problem to you. There’s no other way pearls are made.
The Apostle Peter wrote to believers in the church of his day,
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
And the Apostle Paul wrote about his “thorn in the flesh,” which most Bible scholars believe was a serious chronic illness, possibly degenerative eye disease,
“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
That negative thing in your life may not be the awful problem you think it is. It may be the beginning of a “pearl of great value” that ultimately will give meaning to your life and glory to God.
–Pastor George Van Alstine