Download or listen to The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, “A Treasure, a Pearl, a Net” (Matthew 13:44-52)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a very great treasure. So great a treasure that everyone everywhere ought to be willing to give up everything to acquire it. Whatever has to be sold, whatever has to be given, whatever has to be left behind—there is no price too high to be paid for it. There is nothing that is worth missing out on this treasure. What would it profit a man to gain the whole world—to gain everything—and to lose his very self? To try to hang on to his life and then, in the end, to lose not only his life but everything else beside? If people only understood the nature of this treasure, wouldn’t they give everything? Why isn’t the world beating down the doors and giving up everything to get this treasure of peace, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation?
Which reminds me of a story. A man came to talk to Jesus one day and asked him, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “Keep the commandments.” The man asked, “Which commandments?” And Jesus said, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false testimony, honor your father and your mother; in short, love your neighbor as yourself.” The man said, “I have kept all these.” And Jesus says, “Okay, well if you want to be perfect, go, sell everything you have, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” In other words, do what we seem to think this parable demands of us. Certainly that’s not too high a price to pay for eternal treasure with the Lord. But the man went away sorrowful, sad because he had a lot of stuff. So Jesus said to His disciples, “It is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Reign of Heaven.” His disciples get the point, and say, “Well, then who can be saved?” And Jesus says, “With people this is impossible, but all things are possible with God.” The Kingdom of Heaven is a great treasure; it is worth giving everything up in order to acquire it. The problem is, the price of it is far above our pay-grade. And this is proved by another parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 18. A man owes a king 10,000 talents, which is essentially 10,000 years of wages. The man is about to be sold, with everything he has, in order to pay the debt. The point is, he’s never paying that debt off. So he asks for more time, and, instead, the king simply forgives the whole debt. In other words, if you think this parable is about people giving up everything in order to buy the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven, good luck with that. Not only does no one do it willingly, but even if someone did, it wouldn’t be enough. Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to give up everything. You’re going to “buy the farm,” so to speak. And Jesus is only telling these parables to His disciples in a house, away from the crowds; His disciples who had in fact left behind jobs and families, and who would give up their very lives as they followed Jesus. But that’s not why Jesus tells the parable. And it’s clear that that’s not why when we examine all the rest of the parables in chapter 13, including the three we have here, along with the wheat and the weeds and the sower. Start at the end, with the net. Are you the fisherman? Are you the one gathering all these things in a dragnet, and separating out the righteous and the wicked at the completion of the age? Are you the one harvesting the wheat and putting the weeds outside to burn? Are you the sower? No. And neither are you the man who finds a treasure and buys the field; neither are you the merchant in search of valuable pearls, who sells everything to buy a single, extra-valuable pearl. All these parables are about the same thing, and that is the Reign of God in Christ; how God reigns and how God saves.
So, in fact, it’s true: there is no price too high to acquire this treasure. There is nothing that is not worth giving for its sake. Whatever has to be given, or left behind, the Lord does it. He leaves His glory behind and humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross. He comes looking for a treasure, and when He finds what He’s looking for, He gives everything He has and buys the whole field. He buys the farm, before He rises from the dead. The only one who has ever done willingly what Jesus tells that rich man to do is Jesus. He fulfills Deuteronomy 7 for you: “You are a people holy to Yahweh your God. Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession.” The funny thing is, it’s not a treasure that is valuable in itself. It’s not because God found some really special, really holy, really spiritual people, and said, “Now these are the ones I’m going to spend My blood and life on!” The fact is, things are only as valuable as what people will pay for them. If you’ve ever tried to sell anything on eBay or craigslist, you know that it doesn’t really matter how much you think it’s worth, or what you think you should get for it. It’s only worth as much as someone’s willing to pay. And there really aren’t any other buyers for sinners like you and me. Maybe some renters, but no one else is buying except the God who made you.
As the Song of Solomon prophesies, “A Man who offered for love all the wealth of His house would be utterly despised.” And so it was: He was scorned, despised, mocked, beaten, and crucified. He was despised then, and He’s despised now. That never stopped Him before. He gave everything in order to buy the field of this world, and you are His treasure. Not because you’re more numerous, better dressed, or less sinful, but simply because He set His love on you and chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. Those whom He chose, He also called, and justified, and glorified. And it for your good and the good of all His people that He works all things. He takes all your sin and mine, and the sin of everyone from Adam on, and He wraps it all up and puts it on His Son, who crucifies it in His own flesh. If the God who gave His own Son up for us all is for you, who can be against you? How will He not also with Him give you all things? Who can condemn you? Who can bring any charge? No one. Who can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing. Not even death.
Rejoice, treasured ones of God! He has bought and paid for you with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Rejoice, even as you remain hidden in the midst of the field of this world. Rejoice that nothing can stop the Lord from gathering His own. Even while our brothers and sisters are being forced from their homes, raped and killed, the Lord knows those who are His. Rejoice, for as long as we are here in this place. Rejoice until the Lord comes to dig you out of your grave and take you home.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/25/14