The readings on which this sermon is based are found at: http://www.users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r050.htm
s050g02 Lockleys 28/7/02 Sunday 17
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found." Matthew 13.44
I personally think that the first two of these sayings of Jesus are rather interesting. Because they are put side by side, it is clear that they are an invitation to look at the differences between them, for there really are differences.
The most likely explanation of the first is that the man is a hired labourer of the owner of the field. This would explain why he was in the field in the first place, for they didn't have metal detectors in those days. So it was probably that he was tilling the soil, clearing it of stones, or digging up a tree root, when he comes across this treasure. Clearly the owner of the field was unaware of its presence, or he would never have sold the field to the man who chanced upon this treasure. The whole incident is "accidental"; the man wasn't even looking for treasure, he was surprised to find it. He then hides the treasure again, lest someone else chances upon it, and goes and buys the field from the owner, at a price much less than its real worth. He certainly doesn't tell the owner of the treasure!
However when we look at the second story, we have no need to conjecture how this man came to find this pearl of great value. There was nothing accidental about it, for we are told he is a merchant looking for fine pearls. It was his trade. Rather than a labourer in a field who had to sell everything he had to purchase the field at much less than its real value; this man could afford to purchase many fields. He finds this pearl of great value, and he buys it, at its full face value. There is no luck, discount or need to be surreptitious here, he has to sell everything he has to buy it, even though it is just one pearl. The man who chanced upon the treasure perhaps found many pearls amongst it, and got much more than he paid for, but the merchant gets precisely one pearl and pays the full market value for it.
Now this highlights the fact that each can afford to buy what was necessary to get what was valuable to them, even though for both they had to sell everything they owned. The logical inference then is that the kingdom of heaven is available to all. It is not out of reach of anyone; it is so arranged by God. We may feel that it is unjust of God to give so freely to one who wasn't even looking, when another strives all his life for just one pearl, but that is the cost of God's mercy towards all. On the other hand not everyone had the facilities that that merchant had - clearly he had the time and assets to deal in fine gems. In this sense he was more fortunate than the labourer in the field; he enjoyed a life of ease in contrast to the labourer who earned his keep by the sweat of his brow.
Next I want to point out that the words are "The kingdom ... is like a merchant looking..." The pearl is not described as the kingdom at all. So then the kingdom is not the pearl, but the seeking. So when we are sometimes a bit depressed we might take heart at these words that we are in the kingdom not only when we find the pearl but also by virtue that we are looking, striving just as that merchant did, all his life. It is in living life as it is that the kingdom is found, not in the one or two "high points" in our lives.
This leads us to the fact that the kingdom is open to all, simply because we are looking for God's blessing, we are doing his will, and God's presence perhaps unseen, is nevertheless real. I believe this is one of the answers I would put to include those who try hard to do God's will in humanitarian works, for in a real way, they too are seeking God and so enjoy being part of the kingdom.
The unexpected and the prize long sought for, of course leads us to the cross and resurrection of Jesus; something which seems hidden from some, and the greatest prize for others. This is the event sought after down through the ages, yet often its implications suddenly dawn on us unexpectedly, seemingly out of the blue. I want to suggest that this is the pattern for most of us really. We seek and because we seek we are part of God's kingdom, like the merchant. But also we find suddenly more - more relevance - more meaning - more understanding, unexpectedly, even despite our searching, it seems not as if we found something more of God, but that God has found something more of us (if that statement was not heretical).
The motivation for all this is, of course, joy. The finder of the treasure *naturally* sells all he has to buy the field, he doesn't need to be coerced into doing this. Likewise the merchant doesn't need to be coerced into buying the pearl of great value; his whole life has been centred around buying and selling. So also coercion has no part in the Christian life - either coercion of others by ourselves to get them to believe as we do, or by God to do as he wills; or perhaps more importantly coercion of ourselves. The Christian life comes naturally in response to the greatness of God's love. God doesn't need to coerce us, it is natural for us to want all the goodness God has to offer. Similarly there is no need to coerce ourselves, to berate ourselves that we haven't yet "sold all that we have", that we don't believe as strongly as we might, that we don't have faith "so as to move mountains". As God shows us more of love, as we understand more of that presence and meaning in our lives, we too find that the things we might have to part with are really of no value anyway, in comparison to what we will obtain. Our belief and our faith will be strengthened.
I want to make some comment about the parable of the net for catching fish. It seems so black and white, how will we be sure that we will be among the "just"? I want to point out the force of the word "wicked". I guess I'm no different from most people. There have been times when I've inadvertently hurt others. There are times when I've done silly things which I find difficulty forgiving myself for, even though I know God has long ago forgiven me, and forgotten about them.
But this is a far cry from being positively "wicked". I refer you to the second of the ten commandments. Often we shrink from the seeming vindictiveness of God who says "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation" yet these words are immediately qualified with "of those who hate me". Again "hate" is a very strong word. There is much that I don't understand; there are times when I too forget God. But while my love of God is indeed imperfect, there are certainly none here who hate God. While I've never met someone who I thought hated God, I could well believe that that hatred would have its effects even to the children of the third and fourth generation.
The kingdom is like a fish net, it gathers in all sorts. Such is the prodigalness of God's love, and I suspect that the bad fish will be pleased to be thrown out. The theme of the rejection of Jesus returns at the end of our gospel portion for today, as those who knew the names of this parents and the rest of his family refuse to accept him.
To return to my earlier theme - the man who finds the treasure in the field hardly acts in a charitable manner towards the owner of the field, someone who had perhaps employed him for many years. He surreptitiously buys the field. None of this "share and share alike" for him. Nor does he take the treasure trove to the local authorities to see who its rightful owner might be. I mean, in all likelihood, it was stolen from someone. He doesn't know and he doesn't care. He is grateful to be included in the kingdom and doesn't care who else is there.
It is God who will clothe us and make us clean, as we come and receive the Holy Communion we are again washed and made "white in the blood of the lamb". It is God who makes us "just". Indeed, is this not what we often stumble over? We cannot comprehend the prodigalness of God's love for all. That loving graciousness of God, ever seeking us and all people, and drawing us and all people into his kingdom?
For there is not one but two parables put side by side. One doesn't tell the whole story - or more importantly - telling only one means that the other would miss out. Here we find again another expression of the graciousness of God who is ever seeking to include one and all into the kingdom. To return to my theme about coercion, the coercion needed is not to be a part of the kingdom, coercion is more often needed when people recognise that others will be there too. The merchant will need to realise that the person who chanced upon the treasure will be included, just as the person who chanced on the treasure will need to accept that the merchant will be there too.
Finally, there are times when I get flat. Times when my "get up and go" just got up and went :-) I begin the day thinking - "another day, another dollar". There are parts of my job that are less interesting than others. I do not like filing much. I don't like filling in forms. I suppose it's not all that surprising that some Sunday mornings I think how nice and warm it is in bed ... And after lunch on Sunday's I collapse in front of the TV ... If I'm really down, I go and visit someone.
I am certain - it is not only me. God blesses us in our interactions with others, not as we are on our knees waiting for God to act. We can find the treasure of God's grace for all as we are clearing a field of stones as well as when we look for loveliness in the things and in the people about us. Each way is equally valid, each way is precious beyond comprehension, and each lifts us beyond ourselves and into joy. For the treasure is God's love for everybody, the worker in the field, the merchant at his or her trade - absolutely everybody. There is no one "beyond the pale".
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