Tuesday, April 21st
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he 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; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Countless people in our world find their livelihoods threatened during these tumultuous days. For anyone who has their savings or retirement tethered to the stock market, this uncertain time is a most harrowing roller-coaster experience. Is the portfolio to be kept as is? Should changes be made? The questions are anxiety-laden, causing financial advisors to exhort patience and calmness. Easier said than done.
The people of Jesus’ time had similar concerns. With the occupation of Israel by the Romans, one of the ways people protected their finances was by burying valued items underground, planning to recover them when things calmed down. Of course, sometimes the family’s treasures were lost due to death or deportation. Consequently, there were caches of resources hidden away in family fields.
The second parable today is intentionally linked with the first by Matthew’s insertion of the connecting word “again.” Both of the parables describe the risk of investing everything for the Kingdom of God. However, there is the interesting matter of intentiality. In the first parable, the man just happens to discover the treasure in the field. In the second, the central character is looking for a pearl of great price. And when he finds it, the Greek phrase used here, as Amy-Jill Levine points out, “suggests that the merchant sold more than just his merchandise. It indicates all possessions—his home, food, clothing, provisions for his family if he had one.” What this seems to imply is that it doesn’t matter how you discover the Kingdom of God; when you actually make the discovery, nothing else matters. It is worth a total commitment of everything we have and everything we are.
In these parables, Jesus employs a unique financial perspective in describing the value of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is of ultimate value and will require all that we have. Now, when Jesus told this parable, it was one those sermons where justice and mercy came together in the same telling moment. For the disciples, this was a gracious affirmation of their willingness to drop everything — leave families, walk away from the fishing business, give up the accounting firm – and follow him. But for others, it was the troubling invitation to risk all and even take up a cross. Jesus, in words that would have taken less than a minute to utter, calls lifetimes into question. But the call will result in reorientation toward the ultimate treasure of the Kingdom.
Fred Craddock, preacher/professor/storyteller-extraordinaire, imagines this in fable-like fashion. He tells of visiting in the home of one of his former students after graduation, and after a great dinner, the young parents excused themselves and hustled the kids off to bed, leaving Fred in the living room with the family pet, a large, sleek greyhound. Earlier in the evening Fred had watched the kids roll on the floor playing with the family dog. “That’s a full-blooded greyhound there,” the father of the kids had told Fred. “He once raced professionally down in Florida. Then we got him. Great dog with the kids, that greyhound.” Well, sitting there with the dog, the dog turned to Fred and asked, “This your first visit to Connecticut?” “No,” Fred answered. “I went to school up here a long time ago.” “Well, I guess you heard. I came up here from Miami,” said the greyhound. “Oh, yeah, you retired?” Fred said. “No, is that what they told you? No, no, I didn’t retire. I tell you, I spent 10 years as a professional, racing greyhound. That means 10 years of running around that track day after day, seven days a week with others chasing that rabbit. Well, one day, I got up close; I got a good look at that rabbit. It was a fake! I had spent my whole life chasing a fake rabbit! Hey, I didn’t retire; I quit!”
Following Jesus is so much more than lifestyle; it is a responsibility, a commitment to the treasure of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is telling us here in this pithy little saying that the Kingdom isn’t simply about being a nice person; it is revolutionary, calling for everything we have. Perhaps no one modeled that out more dramatically than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose faith led him to prison and then to death at the hands of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer once said, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
Today, we are called to bravely invest our lives in that which matters most.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- How do we define treasure? Or better put, how do we define treasure in God’s eyes?
- Have you ever risked something for the cause of faith? What did you learn from that? Thank God for the lesson.
- What are you looking for these days that matters enough that you would sell everything in order to obtain it? How might that awareness guide you to the Kingdom of God?
- Take a moment to pray for our church, that we might incarnate the benedictory words Garrett uses each Sunday to send us into the world:
May the Lord bless you
and keep you.
May God’s face
shine upon you and
be gracious unto you.
May God give you the grace
never to sell yourself short;
grace to risk something big
for something good;
grace to remember that the
world is too dangerous
for anything but truth and
too small for anything but love.
So, may God take your minds
and think through them;
may God take your lips
and speak through them;
may God take your hearts
and set them on fire.
A Poem-Prayer: Frederick Ohler’s “Better Than Nice”
“Thank you for a nice evening –
we must do it again, sometime.”
”Thanks for the present – it was very nice.”
Sincerely yours . . .”
“Thank You, God, for health, for life, for whatever . . .amen.”
O God, who of us does not mouth such
Who of us doesn’t sense how very shallow they are?
For even we
have known those moments
those shining experiences
when gratitude was not a stifling obligation
but an ecstatic necessity
when our very souls were grateful
to be alive
to say, “AH!”