July 27, 2014 - Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

“Where Is Your Treasure?”

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

July 27, 2014

 

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

44 “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.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.[1]

 

I watched something on TV the other day.  It was about a man chasing his treasure - or rather a crab chasing his treasure.  OK, I admit it.  I watched an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants with my sons.  In this particular episode, Mr. Crabbs, the owner of the Crusty Crab Restaurant, discovered the joy of playing the Treasure Hunt board game so much that it became his life.  He thought that the treasure was real and went out to find the treasure chest using the map from the board game.  Mr. Crabbs had so deluded himself in the pursuit of this treasure that it did not matter to him that he had taken the plastic treasure chest from the board game and buried it himself – just so he could find it later.  It didn’t matter to him.  You know why?  Because he was happy, and full of joy pursuing his treasure.

 

Let it never be said that I think Mr. Crabs is a good role model, but his love of his treasure may have something to say to us today, and in no small way Mr. Crabs reminds me of two fellows in Jesus’ parables that we have just read.

 

Because today's gospel moves in a number of different directions with its five parables, we will focus on verses 44-46, the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. All of the parables are about the kingdom, each beginning with "The kingdom of heaven is like . . ." The people in these two parables about treasure have made a discovery. They have found joy, and in their joy they have acted decisively. In one shining moment of discovery, everything has come into focus for them. They know what they have to do and they go do it. If, upon their discovery of the treasure or the pearl, these two protagonists had not acted decisively, if they had been cautious, hesitant, prudent, they would have missed the joy. Go and do likewise, Jesus seems to say. So many parables are stories about what God has done or is doing in the world. These parables seem to be examples of wise human behavior. The inbreaking kingdom of God demands a decisive, joyfully active response.

 

Joy is the response that occurs quite naturally when a discovery is made. The discovery is unexpected. The one who was working in the field did not own the field. Probably he was a laborer, a person hired to work for a more wealthy person. Little did he know that, on an ordinary day at work, he would make this extraordinary discovery. He stumbled upon great treasure while plowing a field.

 

I suppose you are bothered by the morality of the man who, having stumbled upon buried treasure in another man's field, covers it up, sneaks away, sells all that he has, buys the field, then digs up the treasure for himself. Jesus doesn't condemn him. Sometimes our cautious, respectable, prudent, and petty morality gets in the way of the treasure. Mr. Crabbs in Sponge Bob did not bother about such bourgeoisie concerns.

 

In life, we sometimes get distracted, allowing the unimportant to crowd out the important. But sometimes, by the grace of God, we stumble upon good news. We discover the kingdom of God among us, and what then? Are we able to change direction, to risk the adventure of discipleship, to have our world transformed by the kingdom?

Will Willimon tells the story about how he got called into the pastorate: “As a junior in college, a buddy of mine invited me to go with him on a weekend retreat called, "Exploring Christian Ministry" at a nearby women's college. I didn't know that I was that interested in exploring Christian ministry, but it was going to be an all-expenses-paid weekend at a women's college, with possibilities of exploring women, so that sounded good to me.

“The first night there, four or five young pastors from South Carolina stood up and told us what it was like to be a Methodist pastor in South Carolina. One of the young pastors told about how a cross had been burned by the Ku Klux Klan in the front yard. Another had a concrete block thrown through his back window. Yet another had had his children beaten up on the school ground, because word had gotten out in town that this pastor was a "nigger lover."

Willimon sat there, in his low, undergraduate sensibility, thinking to himself, "This is great! Where do I sign up? I didn't know being a Methodist minister was so cool!" [2]

Jesus is walking along a road one day. He is talking to people about the cost of discipleship. He tells them that, if they follow him, their own family could reject them. Everybody could turn against them. There might be imprisonment, beatings, worse. "There will be a cross involved," he tells them.

And guess what happened? Some, not nine out of ten average people, but some, just at his word, dropped everything they were doing, deserted their families (for all we know), let the fishing business go down the drain, turned over the tables at the accounting firm, and followed him. That's what the kingdom of God does to people who stumble upon it, says Jesus.

We read this passionate response to the gospel and we often wonder if we are ever going to feel that way again, or even for the first time.  I remember some moments like that, but I was younger then. I'm now not so quick to jump on the bus and head west.

"Come with us to where there's treasure." Well, I'll have to check my calendar for July. I had better check to see if my AARP membership dues are paid. Is this thing insured? Anyway, where is the treasure and which journey is worth taking?

Sometimes, the mundane, practical matters of life keep us from risking what we need to risk to get our lives in line with the awesome, extreme kingdom of God.

Fred Craddock tells the story about a time he went to visit his daughter in Miami.  The children played with the family dog, a large, long, narrow sort of dog.  His daughter had adopted a full-blooded greyhound. "We got him after his racing days were finished. He is great with the children."

You have probably seen Greyhound races.  In every greyhound race, all of the dogs line up, we are released, and then we follow a little white rabbit thing around the track. It's not really a rabbit, it's just some sort of stuffed thing that is white and is pulled around the track.

The children rolled on his back, their head between his paws. He licked them affectionately.

Well, eventually, it was time for the kids to go to bed. The parents gathered them up and made for the bedroom, leaving Fred alone with the dog.

Fred asked the dog, "What's it like to be a greyhound and race professionally? I have never been to a greyhound race myself."

"It's not a hard life," said the greyhound. "They treat you like a king. Feed you well. I had it made racing."

"Well why did you leave? Did you just age out? You don't look that old to me," I said.

"No, I'm not old enough for retirement. I quit."

I persisted, "Well, what made you quit?"

He replied, "I found out what I was chasing wasn’t real.”[3]

So many people in our world are chasing after things that are not real.  At the Yale University graduation, in 1971, William Sloan Coffin, the chaplain at Yale at that time, reminded the graduates that their graduation put them in danger.  "Even if you win the 'rat race' you are still a rat," he warned them.[4]

Weigh the children.  Glenn Adsit was a missionary in China for many years.  He spent many of those years under house arrest for being suspected of being a missionary.  One day the soldiers came to his home and said that his return to America had been approved.  He and his wife began celebrating and the soldiers said, “you can take two hundred pounds with you.”  Well, they had been there for years and raised their children there.  So they had all this stuff.  Immediately, the arguments began about what they could take and what they would leave behind.  The family, Father, Mother and two children, each had different stuff they wanted to take.  So they brought out the scales and weighed all their things, and divided them into piles.  Finally, after a night of weighing, they had exactly two hundred pounds worth of baggage.

In the morning the soldiers came.

“Are you ready to go?” the soldier asked.

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes.”

“You weighed your children?”

“No…we didn’t weigh the children.”

“Weigh the children.”

In an instant, all the other stuff – the typewriter, the vase – it all became trash.[5]  There was something much more valuable at stake.

 

In so much of life, we get distracted, trivialities elbow out matters of great magnitude. We plow our accustomed furrows. We become preoccupied with our plans and projects. Little things choke out important things. But then, in an instant, as if in a flash of recognition, it is possible to see. Suddenly everything comes into focus, and it is then we realize the relative unimportance of that which we have chased after for so much of our lives. Then sometimes, if we've got the guts, we begin a move toward the treasure, toward the pearl of great price.

 

[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, July 24, 2005.

[3] Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories [St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001] p. 106.

[4] Willimon, Ibid.

[5] Craddock, Ibid, p. 22-23.

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