“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.
A while back I saw a man with a metal detector walking in front of my house. Apparently, there are people who like to search around the property of old homes like ours hoping to find antique coins, bottle caps, and other weird stuff. Watch only one episode of Antique Roadshow or Storage Wars… and you’ll learn everything has a value to someone.
Which takes us to today’s lesson, and our conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon of the Parables from Matthew 13. To recap Jesus has compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a sower sowing seeds, and weed that grow among the wheat, and last week it was the mustard bush and a batch of yeast. Today, Jesus teaches his disciples about the worth of this heavenly kingdom and what makes it so valuable.
Read Matthew 13:44-53
Having left the public, Jesus and the Twelve go to a private house where he tells them two sets of “Twin Parables.” Some people called than that because they share the same blood, but are both uniquely their own.
In the first set, you may have noticed that one focuses on a random discovery, while the other is an active search. Yet both express great joy on behalf of the one who finds them. A joy so great that they are willing to sacrifice everything to possess the treasure for themselves.
It’s worth mentioning that the man who finds the treasure buried in the field will be set up for life, while the pearl the merchant procures will cost him everything he has. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like: a kind of joy that sets you up for life if you’re willing to give up everything to obtain it.
Again, this kingdom is not some far away home in the sweet by-in-by. It’s a part of the here and now. Jesus brings this to our attention as we learn how to exist with one another.
Why is this important for us to know? Because the other second set of parables remind us of the eschatological nature, or the end times, of these stories. As if Jesus is saying, our future is tied to the ways we behave towards one another this side of eternity.
One could argue these parables are about our faith and willingness to follow Jesus. And in many ways, they are. He shows us the way to live into God’s righteousness. Others might argue they are about the goodness of God, which is the biggest theme of the entire Bible. You might be like me and see a mix of both. For example, I see God as both the treasure and the treasure seeker.
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Now what do we know about treasures, other than pirates like to steal them? Up until the modern banking system, it was common for people to bury valuable possessions as a means to keep them safe from thieves and wild marauders. This was a great idea unless you were killed or died without telling anyone about your secret hiding place.
To this day people are still digging up priceless treasures all over the world. Nearly all of them remain a mystery to who buried it and why. Some of these discoveries include antique vessels filled with gold coins, precious gems, and various kinds of heirlooms. Other’s have been sports memorabilia or antique cars abandoned in storage facilities. Again, everything is worth something to someone.
Just last week I found this old spike while digging in my yard. It’s not worth much, but it was kinda cool to find. The joy I felt when I found it doesn’t compare to what Howard Carter experienced when he discovered King Tutt’s tomb. For those of you old enough to recall, my discovery was still more exciting than watching Geraldo Rivera hunt for Jimmy Hoffa.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like: Joy. Delight. Excitement.
In this kingdom some of us are rubies. Some of us are diamonds, gold doubloons, an old photograph or love note. It doesn’t matter who or what you are. God knows your heart and sees your value. Jesus calls you a perfect pearl. One that God is willing to sacrifice everything just to hold you in his hand.
Here’s what I learned about pearls. They’re the only gem formed and found within a living creature. Sapphires, diamonds or emeralds can’t make this claim. Moreover, pearls are formed out of great suffering. For example, a parasite or a grain of sand works its way inside an oyster. In order to sooth the pain, a fluid is produced that coats the irritant. Layer upon layer of this coating is built up until the lustrous gem is formed.
Every pearl is made this way, yet no two are the same. Some pearls are created naturally in saltwater, others are farmed in freshwater. Some are various shades of white, and others various shades of black. Yet all are worth everything to God.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s joyful and priceless. It’s where something as banal as a grain of sand can be transformed into a unique, intrinsic, highly desired gem. No wonder Jesus said a person will give up everything to have that treasure.
Now, imagine you are the treasure seeker. What exactly are you looking for? More importantly, what are you willing to give up in order to obtain it?
The disciples have given up everything – their families, their jobs, their safety and security – all to follow a man who had nothing material to offer them. What did they expect to gain in return for their sacrifice? A mansion and Ferrari in the afterlife, streets paved with gold as if the best God could come up with was Beverly Hills but with better weather and less smog? In his book Love Wins, Rob Bell writes, “How we see heaven will directly affect how we understand what to do with our days in this age.”
The next two parables, I think, allude to the eschatological nature our actions. The good and the bad, the new and the old. They are parables like the wheat and the weeds that tell us not everything will be welcomed in God’s realm. Things like greed, injustice, anger, violence, racism, rituals, doctrine and dogma all come to mind.
Basically, I’d say whatever does not reveal the love and goodness of God’s righteousness is not worth holding on to; especially if they keep you from thriving in the kingdom. It’s best to let them go, if you want to go with Jesus.
Truth be told, it’s not that great of a sacrifice considering what you’re getting in return. Letting go of bad things free us up to joyfully embrace the goodness of the kingdom - bridge building, peacemaking, pursuing justice, and showing mercy and kindness. These are the treasures God is looking for in us. The very things that ignite God’s delight and joy and excitement when found.
Now let’s go back to finding that treasure. In 2013 a Northern California couple had an experienced that would make for a wonderful, modern parable. While walking their dog on their large rural property, they noticed a rusty can popping up from the ground. Curiosity got the best of them and they took to digging it up. And boy, were they glad they did. That old can was filled with gold coins.
After quietly celebrating, the couple returned with a metal detector, and unearthed seven more cans for a total of 1,427 uncirculated and mint condition gold coins from the 19th century. No one knows where they came from or how they got there. Only after the last can was uncovered did the couple notice an odd-shaped rock tied to a weathered leather thong, and left hanging from a tree, right there in plain sight, marking where the treasure was.
This is the kingdom of heaven. It’s full of joy, unexpected surprises, and plenty of clues revealing the mysteries of God. Jesus is one such clue; showing us that the true treasures we seek are within our grasp.
It doesn’t matter if God is the treasure or the one looking for it, or we are. When the two come together, the human and the divine, there is great joy and delight. Every time we love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, seek justice and demand equality, the kingdom of heaven is revealed. As Jesus put it, “Whoever gets in trouble for doing the right thing will be blessed in the kingdom of heaven.”
God knows the treasure that is in us, and the treasure God is. Now it’s up to us to discover its true value.
Despite the division, the pain and suffering our country and the world is enduring, God, in Christ, is making something very holy and sacred happen in our lives. The more we become aware of it, and move to participate in it, the more we discover and uncover the real treasure of God’s love right here and right now in our lives.
Whether you’re a treasure buried deep in the earth or sunk at the bottom of the ocean, remember this there is no place to far or to deep for God’s grace to find you and redeem you back into his heart. That’s the good news. That God is willing to joyfully enter life, to look and search for us, and then claim us no matter the cost, is the greatest treasure of all.
Jesus asked his disciples if they understood what he meant. We know in hindsight, that their ‘yes’ was premature. They will not fully gasp it until they go into Jerusalem with him one last time and witness the power of God’s redemptive love.
Though we have the gospel stories that tell us what happened after Jesus gave his life for us, we don’t really know what God is capable of doing because it’s still being revealed to the world. We have to trust that God knows what God is doing, and stand firm in God’s righteous, even if we get in trouble for doing so. But in return for such faithful action, comes the kingdom of heaven.
So, I’ll ask you one more time, are you ready to let go of the things that are keeping you from living and thriving in God’s love, peace and joy?
Are you ready to live into your faith, to be a valuable part of the body of Christ, the visible presence of God’s grace here on earth as it is in heaven?
If so, then here’s one last parable for you to ponder. The kingdom of heaven is like you. And you are worth more to God than any earthly treasure.
Bell, Rob. Love Wins: a Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011.
Lockyer, Herbert. All the Parables of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”