Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary

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The parable of the pearl is told in the chapter 13 of the Gospel according to Matthew. Its profundity is like the profound parable of the treasure hidden in the field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46)

During antiquity, pearls were more valuable than in our time. Christ's contemporaries paid great sums for good pearls. They understood the words of Jesus to mean that to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven, one must give up everything for what Christ offers.

The parable pearl is the Gospel. The merchants are men seeking knowledge. The world has many pearls, many forms of knowledge, but only one is precious, which is faith in Jesus Christ. Men carefully acquiring knowledge of Christ and sensing the truths that lead to the Kingdom of Heaven can see their model in the merchant who seeks pearls, and who sold his many small ones, uses the money to buy one uniquely precious.

"He that possesses the pearl knows that he is rich," says John Chrysostom, "but others often do not know that they have a pearl in their hands, because the pearl is not big: the same can also be said about the truth. Those possessing it know that they are rich, but unbelievers, not understanding the value of this treasure, do not know of our wealth."

The parable of the treasure hidden in the field is about suddenly finding God's truth, but the parable of the pearl is about finding this truth after a long search. Prince Vladimir, the Enlightener of the Russian people, brought Russia to baptism after a long search, and the Church troparion calls him "the merchant who sought the goodly pearl." He sought and found the true faith.

Saint Justin the Philosopher is another who sought the truth and found it only in the teaching of Jesus Christ. In his work "Dialogue with Tripho, a Jew," he writes that while still a pagan he studied all the philosophical systems of his time (AD 100s) and he especially liked Plato. But his broad knowledge did not answer questions that interested him about God, soul, immortality, and such things until an elder (Saint Polycarp, according to tradition) told him about Jesus Christ and the prophets. Study of the prophecies and the Gospel brought Saint Justin to the one true philosophy, the pearl. The lives of these holy God-pleasers show how the words of Sacred Scripture sink into the souls of unbelievers seeking the pearl, and set them towards faith in Christ and life in Him.

So let each of us seek this one pearl. "Search the scriptures," says the Lord, "they are they which testify of me" (John 5:38). Find the precious pearl of Christ by attentive and prayerful study of the Word of God. Follow what the Lord said of to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, who was dead for four days: "the one thing needful" (Luke 10:42).

The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander, has a chapter "On the Pearl of Great Price." The author writes of the signs of finding the precious pearl: "the deeper you pressed into your own heart, the farther and higher you climbed out of yourself. The outward conditions of your life are the same: you wash dishes and care for the children, you go to work, draw your salary and pay your taxes. You do everything pertaining to your external life as a person in a society, since there is no chance of leaving it. But you have resigned yourself. You have given away one thing in order to receive another. 'And if I have Thee, what more do I ask on earth?' 'Nothing,' answers St. John Climacus, but ceaselessly praying, silently to cling to Thee. Some are enslaved by riches, others by honor, still others by acquiring possessions; my only desire is to cling to God. '"

"Prayer, with all it contains of self-renunciation, has become your real life, which you keep up as though only for the sake of prayer. "Walking with God" (Genesis 6:9) is from now on the only thing that has real value for you, and it includes all heavenly and earthly events. For him who bears Christ within himself, there is neither death nor illness or any earthly clamor; he has already stepped into eternal life, and that embraces everything.

"Night and day the heavenly seed sprouts in your heart and grows, you know not how. The earth produces of itself, your heart's soil, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear" (Mark 4:27-8).

"The saints speak of something they call the inextinguishable light. It is a light not of the eye but of the heart that never ceases to walk in purity and clearness. It swiftly leaves the darkness behind, and constantly strives towards the day's height. Its constant quality is to be continually purified. This is the light of eternity that can never go out, and that shines through the veil of time and matter. But the saints never say that this light is given to them, but that it is given only to those who have purified their hearts in love for the Lord on the narrow way which they have freely chosen." It is worth renouncing everything for the sake of obtaining that which Christ offers us - the pearl of His teaching and the life of blessedness in Him."

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