"I'm here," I whispered to myself, still in disbelief.
It struck me that all those who had gone and returned in vain must not have believed that the destination would be worth the trial to get there. They must not have been changed by their experience, nor had they grown or become anything different than when they had left. As I reflected thus, my mind caught hold of another idea: perhaps the destination wasn't where the growth was meant to come anyway! Perhaps, I thought, the reason this place was so blessed was because when men and women who ventured here arrived at these gates, they came tired, beaten, and spent, but they had learned the true meaning of love, of sacrifice, of the joy of selflessness. I had! I had learned, out in the wastes, that to give of oneself is to receive; that when you strive when your arms are too weary and reach for the seemingly unreachable ideal, you grow to become something more. I had overcome so much--only, of course, with the help of the Wanderer. The joy had been in the journey.
I was lost in thought for quite some time, basking in the luminous joy and unspeakable gratitude I felt merely standing where I was. Presently, I floated back down from my flight-of-fancy and strode through the ornately wrought gates and into the city.
It was so beautiful.
My soul drank it all in: the grass was as verdant as you could possibly imagine; the buildings of the most precious, glimmering white marble you've ever seen, inlaid with intricate gold leafing around the windows and doors; the air was fresh and cool; along the pathways and walkways there stood sentinel shade trees, housing birds which happily warbled their heavenly serenade. As I purveyed the glorious city, to my absolute joy, I saw, in the main square, a fountain of the purest water I'd ever laid eyes on, bubbling and flowing without any compulsory means; around the fountain stood several trees filled with dazzlingly white fruit! Several people stood near the fountain, smiling and chatting and laughing, drinking from the fountain and eating of the fruit. I was drawn, almost magnetically to the square. As I approached, the people stopped laughing, but they didn't stop smiling warmly at me. I looked into their faces and, to my amazement, saw glimpses of my friend, Shiloh! It was as if they had his features engraved in their countenances--it didn't surprise me that the good people who had overcome so much and made it here should bear resemblance to the Wanderer who had overcome all. I glanced between them and the fruit and they nodded knowingly. That rush of joy surged in me again as I stretched forth my hand and grasped one of the low-hanging fruits. It was pleasantly warm to my touch, and the joy radiated through me, crescendoing into a heart filled with absolute happiness. I closed my eyes, now streaming with tears of joy, sunk my teeth into the fruit.
It was heaven--beyond description. My soul seemed to be bursting at the seams as I savored the sweetness of that fruit, not wanting the feeling to fade. And it didn't. I looked at the people around me who I knew were my friends, their faces beaming--some of the women crying as well--knowing what I was experiencing. I was here! here where I knew I had always belonged--among friends, partaking of the sweetness that had been promised, drinking the pure, clean waters that I had always believed in and longed for. I was home.
* * * * * * * *
Three days after I had entered the city, I found myself looking out the window of the mansion that had been prepared for me, wearing the brilliant, white robes of the denizens of the city of Promise, having been filled on the fruit of the tree and the water of the fountain. Friends had greeted me warmly and shown me around the city--I was reunited with Jesse and Ruth! They had made it! We had shared stories and experiences, reminiscing the trials of the desert and the experiences we had had with our dear friend Shiloh. He had been on my mind, as you might imagine. I couldn't help but feel responsible for his death, the death of one so innocent of wrong and so undeserving of the fate he had suffered for me. I had kept these things in my heart; things I was now pondering as I looked out upon the desert's expanse. I missed him, his love and wisdom, his help--without it, I would have surely died a long while ago and never have made it to the city. I sighed and said softly, "Please forgive me, my friend. I love you so."
"And I love you, my friend," came a familiar voice behind me. I gasped, whirled around, and there, standing in the doorway, was the Wanderer--my friend, Shiloh! He beamed as the morning sun, smiling in his way, his eyes aglimmer with kindness and joy and all the wonderful emotions his presence brought to me.
I ran to him and embraced him. "But--how? how did you...?" I sputtered.
"I am the resurrection and the life," he said, tears of joy welling in his eyes as well as mine. "I have laid down my life and taken it again, and whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. I have overcome all for you. I have paid the utmost price, and now," he smiled and reached into his robes, "this, the greatest gift of all, is yours." He produced an enormous, brilliant pearl and handed it to me. Speech fled me; no words could have captured my gratitude and whole-hearted praise and adoration at that moment. I took the pearl from his outstretched hand, and as I removed it, I noticed a scar in the palm of his hand--where the nail had been. A lump the size of the pearl formed in my throat and my lip quivered as I looked tearfully and mournfully into his blue, blue eyes. He said nothing, but embraced me again, and I sobbed into his shoulder.
Now I understood the meaning of "the pearl of great price". The ancients referred not to the monetary value of the pearl--for indeed I would not have sold that precious possession for all the riches in the world. As I felt the print of the nail in my Friend's hand, reflecting on what he had done for me, for my happiness, I realized that the phraseology referred to the great price required of one who sought the pearl--all I had, and all he had.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends...
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace...be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Images from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyandorla/3852828218/ ; http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_hzDguqEv5Ko/TJcd6xfodeI/AAAAAAAAAHE/gKIjKj4Puu4/S220-h/pearls_sunhaji2.jpg