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Worth vs. Value - May 5, 2019

Matthew 13:44-46
Today’s parables are found together in Matthew, but we don’t really know if Jesus taught them together or not, all of the parables are lumped together in chapter 13, and it’s unlikely that he just taught parables once, all together, in one lump. It’s more likely they were spaced out throughout his ministry, and so we don’t know if these two originally were taught together or not.

Over the years, they’ve been taught as having a similar straightforward message…sell all the things you have on earth so you can gain

the kingdom of heaven. It’s worth it.

But, I have to say, I don’t think that’s really what either of these passages are about. Let’s start with the fact that we can’t buy the kingdom of God. We can’t trade it for money or goods. But beyond that, there are other challenges.

Let’s start with the first of today’s parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. Ok—so the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure. We can get behind that, right? That’s a reasonable comparison and pretty much lines up with what we may have been taught. The kingdom of heaven is something of value—of high value, something we hold dear. But then, the parable continues on—it’s like a treasure buried in a field—now if it’s a treasure, why is it covered in dirt? Well, in the first century it wasn’t so crazy—that’s where you tucked things away. There weren’t secret compartments, locked closets, or safes. There was dirt—and so people buried things for safe keeping. Only this thing was lost, or forgotten, or left behind when the unknown owner died. So there is sat—doing no good for anyone until one day a hired hand was digging, seemingly to plant or build, not digging for treasure and he found the treasure. Then he buried it again. Which seems a little odd—but the rules of the day dictated that if he had moved it, it would have been revealed and known to the owner. But by leaving it in the same spot where he found it, he could legally and legitimately buy the land and then own the treasure. While it seems sneaky, it wasn’t unscrupulous. Presumably, if the land owner had known it was there, he would have retrieved it before selling the land.
So, the kingdom of heaven was of great value, and it was tucked away to protect it, only in protecting it, it was hidden and forgotten. And while it’s value was recognizable to the one who found it, it wasn’t found on purpose, but only by accident. If we really reduce it down, the Kingdom is valuable, hidden, unknown, discoverable, and worth everything. But what does that mean for us? What does that really tell us about the kingdom of heaven? What point was Jesus trying to make? Are we supposed to believe the Kingdom is hidden? Forgotten? Found by those who aren’t even looking?

Contrary to the popular teaching, the man didn’t sacrifice everything—he sold his things, but in essence he made a trade of what he had owned, for a plot of land with this valuable treasure. And the parable doesn’t tell us anything about what possessing the treasure did for the man, or changed about his life.

How is it that this parable left me with more questions than answers?! I’m thinking I may not be the one with eyes to see or ears to hear….

Let’s try the second parable. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant. Which sounds innocuous, except merchants weren’t held in high regard. So the kingdom of Heaven is like a man no one liked….maybe not as hated as tax collectors, but not a popular guy. The kingdom is like an unpopular man who bought and sold things and went looking to buy a bunch of pearls, but instead of finding a bunch of them, he found one really amazing one and he sold EVERYTHING he had, absolutely everything to possess it. So the kingdom is like an unpopular man who goes out looking for one thing only to find something different, who then forsakes everything for that one thing.

Now, if the kingdom was like the pearl—we’d get it—at least as something similar to the hidden treasure—Each thing is extremely valuable, found by chance, worthy of an exchange for everything else. But that’s not what we have. We have that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant—an unpopular man who seeks lots of things only to find one thing.

If we’re drawing parallels, then the kingdom seeks like the merchant…so what exactly is the kingdom seeking?

Sometimes I wish Jesus would be a little less cryptic. I mean, really, could he just say the thing?

 

Part of the problem here seems to be that neither of these parables say what others quickly say they do. And neither of them seems to line up with all the other things that are said about the kingdom, which makes them hard to hear and understand. They don’t quite fit our expectations. The first parable tells us the kingdom is like a treasure—that works with what we know. But it claims the treasure is lost, forgotten, unknown, and only found by accident. And none of that lines up with Jesus’ other teachings where the kingdom is among us, where it’s relational, where it’s something we should actively seek to find and then expand it. SO does that mean there’s more to the kingdom than we thought? That it’s more mysterious? More imprecise?

If we put ourselves in the story, as we might on other occasions, what if we’re the one who buried it? Aware of its value but not utilizing it like it was intended? What happens to us? We get forgetful? Or we wither away? We lose the kingdom?

Or what if we’re the second one—the one who technically, legally possesses it but has NO idea that it even exists? Are we that person? Clueless about the reality of the kingdom?

Or are we the third? The one who finds it and recognizes its value, so we trade all we have for it—apparently that’s the one we’re supposed to be—because at least then we’d have the kingdom of heaven. But that didn’t happen because we wanted it, or because of great determination, it happened because of dumb luck.
So now what do we do? Is there a call to action? Or only a recognition that sometimes we miss the kingdom all together or only find it when we’re not looking?

I have to tell you, as a preacher, these parables are a bit disconcerting. They don’t tie up easily with a simple take away for the week. It feels like something we’ll have to keep riddling out all week. Which maybe makes them the best lesson on the kingdom of heaven since it’s certainly more accurate that it’s more mystery than clarity, more questions than sweet bow tied answers. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is more hidden and forgotten than we’d like to admit. Maybe that’s why it isn’t overtaking the earth in the ways we wish it would. After all, the kingdom is supposed to be about peace, and justice, and enough food, water, and love for all—and we certainly don’t have enough of that. And what if it’s like the second parable suggests? Unpopular.

At the very least, I don’t think we should be satisfied with a cheap cliché that tells us to sell everything and trade it for the kingdom. That may be something we’re called to do at some point, but I don’ think that’s the heart of these parables. I think there’s more depth here. More to ponder. More to untie. More to sort out.

And maybe in knowing we lack all the answers, we’ll keep searching, or start searching, for the treasures of the kingdom that remain hidden from us.

Let us pray. Loving God, so often we want faith to be clear and easy. We want to know what to do to get it right. And yet our reality is that its complex and mysterious. You often stand outside our reach. This week your words make us think—we ask that you would be with us in the puzzling. Reveal yourself to us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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