I’ve just won a month’s stay in a luxury apartment in the sun; all expenses paid, and with £1,000 of spending money thrown in. “What’s the catch?” I hear you ask. There’s no catch; it’s simply not true. But what if it were … what would be your reaction to my ‘good news’? Would you simply congratulate me on my good fortune and wish me well? Or would there be a little twinge of envy … would you say, for example, “I’d give an arm and a leg for something like that!”
Of course you wouldn’t really mean a double amputation … if nothing else, that would mar the enjoyment of what you’d done it for. It’s just the sort of metaphor people use to express a desire for something just beyond the reach of normality: a luxury holiday, the latest i-phone or a night out with <insert name of favourite celebrity>. But come back (a little closer) to reality for a moment. What would you give? What would you really give for a prize like that, or better? A month’s salary – or several – perhaps? a year of your life? or even (we’re heading into Faustian territory here) … your soul?
Jesus told a couple of parables that placed men in just such a situation. One man found some hidden treasure, the other a valuable pearl. Each went away and sold all he had in order to possess what he’d found (Matt. 13:44-46).
At first glance these two seem to be saying the same thing but look closer. In the first, Jesus likened the Kingdom to the treasure. Someone finding something so wonderful as eternal life in God’s Kingdom might well sell all he had to possess it. In the second parable, however, Jesus focused not on the object, but on the finder, the merchant who – like the shepherd in another parable (Matt. 18:12-14) – had been looking for the pearl. Commentators have therefore suggested that the merchant is God himself, who gave his Son’s life in order to redeem us.
A little further in his gospel, Matthew tells us of a young man who clearly embraced the worthy aim of eternal life, and asked how he might achieve it. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and then follow Him … advice that saddened him because of his wealth (Matt. 19:16-22). Jesus’ ensuing conversation with Peter and the others explained this somewhat unexpected demand on the young man.
It’s not that God wants to deprive us of our possessions, or that the price of admission to His Kingdom is so high that few if any can afford it (as the disciples feared). The problem is that the more possessions people have, the more they rely on them for their well-being. The things they own – or their investments – are the focus of their lives; it is they that come to possess their owner! It was the pull of the young man’s great wealth that prevented him acceding to Jesus’ call to follow Him.
A competition for an expensive holiday or cruise usually states that competitors must be available for travel on a particular date; there’s no fee, but a condition. Like prizes such as these, there’s no actual charge for us to enter God’s Kingdom – thanks to Jesus’ redeeming death on the Cross, it’s a gift: all we have to do is accept it – but in order to do so, we have to be free of other ‘allegiances’.
What is it that rules your heart?