Picture the most valuable thing in the world that you could ever possibly want. I don’t mean the most valuable sentimental item in the world. I’m speaking of valuable in the “how much money is it worth” sense.
Have you got it? A lamborghini? Your own abandoned island? A professional sports team?
Now, consider the lengths to which you would go to have that item. If it were actually possible for you to possess the most valuable thing in the world that you could ever want, what would you be willing to do? What would you be willing to give up? Would you be reckless in the acquisition of it?
Jesus told two parables to this effect in Matthew 13:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
First, a quick note. I reject the notion that when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven he is speaking of a believer’s future experience in the afterlife. In the context of Jesus’ teaching and preaching, the kingdom of heaven refers to the breaking out of God’s reign in the midst of humanity right here and now. Otherwise it would make no sense for Jesus to repeatedly announce to people that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” or to teach his disciples to pray that God’s “kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.” When Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven, he is speaking about something that has real-life application to all people in the present and in the immediate future.
In this particular instance, Jesus seems to affirm two actions that appear utterly ridiculous and reckless. Think back to the most valuable thing in the world that you want. If I told you could could have it but that you would have to give up everything else in the world that you possessed, would you do it? Would you give up your car? Your home? Your savings/retirement accounts? Would you even give up your smartphone forever?
I most certainly wouldn’t! It would be imprudent! Impractical! I would even consider it unwise! Even if the thing that I would be gaining possession of were of incredible value, what good would it do me if I had lost everything else? Even if I modified that abandoned island to one that had a fully staffed resort on it, how would I get there if I cashed in all my savings just to buy it? How would I eat? How would I pay the staff?
These realities make Jesus’ seeming commendation of the man who buys the field and the merchant who acquires the pearl even more striking to me. They each found something that they valued highly and abandoned everything in its pursuit. Jesus commended them and said that the kingdom of heaven is like that.
While there is no material possession in this world that justifies abandoning absolutely everything else in its pursuit, the kingdom of heaven is unlike anything this world has to offer. Pursuing the reign and rule of God through Jesus in the here and now is absolutely worth abandoning everything for and prioritizing everything else through. Pursuing the kingdom of heaven here and now results in individuals who have been transformed by the Gospel of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit who are subsequently set on mission to be God’s ambassadors of reconciliation, hoping to bring at least glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven through a variety of means. Pursuing the kingdom of heaven here and now results in communities that are transformed through the intentional investment of believers who confront societal and systemic evils because they are contrary to the reign and rule of God through Christ and individuals who are being transformed cannot suffer the presence of such evil.
That type of transformation, both personal and societal, only results from the reckless pursuit of the one thing that has the power to bring both types of change about: Jesus. At times the pursuit of the kingdom through the person of Jesus will appear unwise, imprudent, impractical. But it will also always prove worthwhile and more deeply satisfying that we could ever imagine.