Matthew 13:44-46
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 26, 2020

Seven years ago, Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox, gave the commencement address at MIT. He said that the happiest and most successful people are those who are “all in” on the passionate pursuit of something that matters mightily to them. They are like exuberant dogs chasing a tennis ball with wild abandon and crashing through every obstacle in their way!

Fulfillment in life, Houston said, is not about pushing yourself, but about being pulled by your tennis ball.

So what is your tennis ball?

Jesus offered friendship to everyone. But, when He laid out the terms of what it involved – how it meant bearing torture tool that will kill you, denying yourself many things, and following in the footsteps of Someone who trod the trail of suffering and sacrifice – a whole lot of folks quite naturally responded to His invitation with “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Jesus did no sales job to get people to strike up a friendship with Him. In a seemingly counter-productive approach, He told them they’d have to give up the life they had in order to gain a life with Him. It sounds scary and even stupid. And all He gave them to commend taking a risk on Him was His promise that they’d have a big return on their investment. And His only guarantee of that was His having given them His word on it.

So, O Christian, is Jesus your tennis ball? Do you so want the chance of a life with Him that you’d pay any price to have it?

In today’s lesson, Jesus tells consecutive parables which convey the same message. We’ll reflect on just the second one.

A merchant searches high and low for jewelry items to sell. But, as he looks, he can’t shake a certain vision from his mind. He loves pearls especially, and his imagination has been captivated by the possibility of coming across a pearl of such rare and dazzling perfection that he’d never think of selling it but would treasure it as the supreme prize of his life. He can’t help but keep an eye peeled for it.

Then one day he stumbles upon what he thinks might be it. He blinks in wonder. He picks it up carefully and examines it long and hard from every angle. Perhaps he puts it down reluctantly and leaves for a while to calm down and make sure his fevered hope isn’t distorting his perception and causing him to project magnificence on to only an ordinary pearl. But when he returns, he feels sure he’s finally found what he’s always sought.

When he hears the high cost of it, it never crosses his mind to haggle over the price. To him the pearl is worth everything the dealer asks, if not more. His only concern is to come up with enough money.

His cash on hand won’t suffice. So he realizes he’ll have to drain his savings and sell all the other pearls he’s collected over the years. Why, he’ll even have to go home, sell his house, business, everything he has! But it has to be done. So he asks the dealer to hold the pearl for him: and, leaving all his cash as an earnest payment, a mark of good faith, he rushes home, sells all his holdings, comes back with the money, and buys the pearl on which he’s set his heart, the pearl of such value that to him it feels like he’s getting it for a song.

He takes a very high risk for the chance of a very high reward. Some would call it a foolish investment. He views it as a venture of love, an essential gamble for the fulfillment of his heart’s deepest desire.

The merchant’s mindset matches that of missionary Jim Eliot when he wrote just before his martyrdom: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” For Eliot there was no ultimate sacrifice in his service to the Lord.

Perhaps pearls don’t pull on your heart. But there is something that does. What is the life you’ve always wished you had? Would you balk at paying any price to gain it?

What if you could have eternal and infinite joy? Wouldn’t you endure passing pain for its sake?

What if you could have the only life you feel is worth having? Wouldn’t you be willing to lose some friends, some alternative opportunities, and some time and energy in order to make it your own?

What if you could have the inner riches of a happy and serene soul? Wouldn’t you give up financial security, physical comfort or your standing in certain circles if that’s what it takes?

All of life is a gamble. To be all in on gaining the one thing that matters most to you, you have to forsake seeking anything else as much.

Jesus promises life, hope, forgiving grace and His empowering and consoling companionship. To receive all that, wouldn’t a little self-denial be worth your while? To receive all that, wouldn’t you gamble all that you have? Wouldn’t you in a leap of faith, in the wild hope of obtaining your deepest satisfaction, take a high risk for a stab at that high reward?

Whether the gamble with Jesus makes sense depends on what you really, really want. How much do you want Jesus and all He’s offering?

The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who act like a crazy dog chasing a tennis ball or a foolish merchant selling all he has for a single pearl.

Will you be a fool for love and doggedly pursue the greatest desire of your soul? It turns out your deepest desire is Someone, Someone who can so fill you with God’s blessings as to make all you give up for His sake a small price to pay!

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