From The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to latest in theIndiana Jones series, Hollywood has always found entertaining ways to capitalized on that treasure seeking spirit within us all.
Long before television, Jesus described of the kingdom of heaven as a treasure hunt of sorts. Sometimes you stumble upon it like Jed Clampett did. Other times you race to find it, like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure.
Which takes us to today’s lesson, and our conclusion of what I like to call Jesus’ Sermon of the Parables – those seven short stories in Matthew 13 where Jesus reveals the mysteries and value of God’s abundant and steadfast love.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and reburied; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
These two super short parables have been called the “Twin Parables” because they share the same blood but remain uniquely their own. At this point in the chapter Jesus is no longer talking publicly to the crowd. Instead, he’s speaking privately to his disciples to help them understand the greater mysteries of God that have been hidden in plain sight.
As Campbell Morgan expressed, these two parables “constitute the secrets of God, but they are revealed to men of faith, knowing they will be strengthened and heartened and equipped for all their services.”
In the first one, Jesus paints a vivid picture of a person stumbling upon a hidden treasure in a field. Overwhelmed with joy and excitement, the individual promptly sells everything they own to purchase that precious field.
This might seem odd to us today, but before the modern banking system, it was common for people to bury valuable possessions to keep them safe from thieves and marauders. It was a pretty good system, unless you died without telling anyone where your treasure was buried.
It must have happened a lot because people are still digging up antique vessels filled with gold coins, precious gems, and various kinds of heirlooms.
Yet, Jesus isn’t talking about material treasures but spiritual ones. And a particular treasure that is worth everything to the one who finds it.
This makes me wonder, “What would you give up everything to possess?” The disciples gave up 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?
Like I argued last week, the parables aren’t about us. They are about God and God’s reign. In the kingdom of heaven, it’s God who sows the seeds, and deals with the wheat and weeds, and makes worthless things worthy. And as we see here, it’s God who sacrifices everything. Causing great joy in heaven.
Although the parables reveal God to us, they also speak to the part of God that dwells within us. That is to say, the divine image of God’s love - that precious, invaluable treasure that is just waiting to be uncovered and embraced.
In finding this love we will find who we are - God’s beloved, who have been empowered to carry forward what Christ set in motion.
Whether we stumble upon it or seek it out, when we discover this divine treasure within us, we learn the depth of our inherent worth in the kingdom of heaven.
This takes us to the second parable about a merchant in search of the finest pearl. Like the treasure hunter, when he finds one of such exquisite beauty he sells all that he has and buys it.
In the kingdom of heaven God actively searches for us. And upon finding us, spares no cost to possess us. Robb Bell reminds us that, "We are all pearls of great price. The divine spark within each of us is valuable beyond our comprehension."
Now, here’s what I know about pearls. First, they’re the only gem made from a living creature. Diamonds, rubies, 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 a lustrous gem is formed.
Every pearl is made this way, yet no two are the same. Some are created naturally in saltwater; others are farmed in freshwater. Some are various shades of white; others are various shades of black. Yet each one is worth everything to God.
One of the hidden truths of this kingdom is that our God loves every one of us – so much so that God would come walk among us to redeem us back to whence we came.
That’s the Christian message, isn’t it? “That God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that anyone who believes in him will not parish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
I know plenty of people who can recite this infamous verse, but can’t actually comprehend the great mystery hidden within it. It’s hard for them to see how that sacred treasure of God’s steadfast love has been given to the entire world. Not just to Catholics or Protestants, but to every living creature made in God’s image.
I also know plenty of good people who doubt their faith. You might be one of them. You might be struggling with feelings of unworthiness or believe you have to do something to earn God's love. But that’s not how it works in the kingdom of heaven. In this sacred space, God chases after us and loves us without any terms or conditions.
Our true worth comes not from our possessions or accomplishments, but from being wonderfully made in the image of God. For God’s love knows no bounds. It transcends barriers of race, gender, sexuality, social status, and religious affiliation. It recognizes the unique beauty in each divine creation.
Because we possess that love, we must express that love in all the ways we are able. God’s love has made us “valu-able” thanks to the gift of Christ that has empowered and employed us.
Once we truly grasp the depth of God's love for the treasure that it is, we can fearlessly and faithfully love God, love others, and serve both. We can step outside our comfort zones to extend God’s grace and compassion to all people, because each person bears the divine imprint.
Jesus sends us into Anamesa, that space between faith and faithlessness, to be the visible representatives of God’s divine love in this heavenly kingdom…which is here in this present moment. Jesus already ushered it in.
Which means whoever we love, or however we help someone without judgment, or whenever we cultivate communities where everyone is seen, valued, and cherished as beloved children of God, the kingdom of heaven is revealed to those who might not ever get the chance to see it. And whenever those things happen… there is joy in heaven.
Back in 2013, a couple walking their dog on their large rural property in Northern California 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 mint condition, uncirculated 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 the odd-shaped rock that had been tied to a weathered leather thong, and left hanging from a tree. The marker of the treasure was right there in plain sight.
We are all God’s beloved children. Each one of us is a treasure hidden in the vast field of God's love. Every soul a pearl of immeasurable worth.
When we come to recognize this divine presence within ourselves and others, we find joy in one another. And heaven rejoices.
So let us go forth into Anamesa, grounded in the assurance of our worth and the worth of every soul.
Let us bring out of this treasure all that is new, and all that is old, carrying the message as living parables of God's inclusive love, shining forth as beacons of hope and healing in a broken world.
For the kingdom of heaven is like you. An everyday, ordinary saint whose value is worth more to God than any earthly treasure.
Adapted from Gathering Together from August 2, 2020.
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.”