Barbara Krensavage insists that clams are not a regular part of her diet. Yet one snowy evening in December she found herself craving an old recipe, and so brought home four dozen quahogs—a clam particularly abundant between Cape Cod and New Jersey. Mr. Krensavage was in the midst of shucking the shellfish for dinner when he discovered one that looked like it was dead. It had a different color to it and he thought it was diseased. As he was about to discard it, Mrs. Krensavage took a closer look.
It wasn’t dead. In fact, inside the live clam was a rare and possibly priceless, purple pearl. Experts estimate that roughly one in two million quahog clams contains a gem-quality pearl like the one found by the Krensavages. Due to the great rarity of the find, it has been difficult to even place a value on it, though some have estimated the pearl to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The message Jesus Christ brought to the world was one that spoke openly of a kingdom among us, where, like this discovery of the Krensavages, all is not as it may first appear. In a world that would seem to some more marked by disease than promise, he spoke of a treasure hidden, a mystery revealed in this life, worth selling all we have to possess as our own. He spoke of. Beside the sting of death, he spoke of life somehow stronger than death itself. He spoke of this kingdom as a present, real, and incomparable pearl of great price.
Yet even holding it, he noted that we may not always recognize its worth. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus stood with Peter, James, and John—three men who left lives behind to sit and learn at his feet—and there he was transfigured before them. These men knew Jesus better than any other. They were with him constantly, eating, sleeping, and learning; and they were terrified in his presence on the mountain. All three fell facedown on the ground, until Jesus came and touched them. As commentator Frederick Bruner describes what was happening on that mountain, “What Jesus was within was once made visible without.”(1)
In the Old Testament, the face of God was readily spoken of as too much for a person to see and yet live. Rabbinic reflection taught that Adam and Eve had lost the radiance of their faces in their fall from God, and that only the Messiah would reestablish this radiance once more. Here as the face of Christ “became like the sun,” it portrayed vividly the glory of God and the beginnings of God’s restorative work, a preview of the heavenly transfiguration awaiting those united with Christ. For the disciples, the sound of God’s voice and the reality of the Son were too much to behold standing.
Perhaps it is telling that the clam which held the pearl the Krensavages now treasure was the one that had the most outward appearance of death. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “[I]t is, I think, a gross exaggeration to picture the saving of a soul as being, normally, at all like the development from seed to flower. The very words, repentance, regeneration, the New Man, suggest something very different.”(2) We cannot lay our hands on the thought that we are made in the image of God, invited to be formed at the hands of Christ, without laying down our entire lives before him, giving everything we have, being turned inside out, that we might one day stand in God’s glory. For the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, A Commentary: The Churchbook, Matthew 12-28 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 167.
(2) C.S. Lewis, Transposition and other Essays, ch. 3.