The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s050g08 Sunday 17 27/7/08
'treasure hidden' Matthew 13.44
The gospel passage that is set here is Matthew 13. 44-58 which begins with the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price and ends with the rejection of Jesus by those with whom he had worshipped every Sabbath all his life, those who could even name the other members of his family.
And it struck me that here we have anonymous people chancing on the kingdom or working all their lives for it, both welcoming it with open arms, whereas those for whom the kingdom literally had been under their very noses for so many years, failed to perceive what God had done.
And it makes me wonder just who hid the treasure in the first place? I recall one of those internet jokes about the boy answering a question in Sunday School: 'What is a small brown, furry cute animal' and he answered 'Jesus'. He was most surprised that there was actually any other answer than Jesus the real answer was a squirrel. So we might unthinkingly say it must have been God who hid the treasure in the field. I'm not sure for what purpose God would hide the kingdom from anyone. Clearly if it can be found in a field, in a jeweller's store, in what scribes have in their own possession, or in the sea, one can hardly suggest that God hides it anywhere. If God hides it anywhere it would only be for it to be found - the kingdom has never been meant to be kept from anyone.
The kingdom is available to farm labourers who may not even be looking for it, the wealthy who have been looking for it all their lives, fishers, and scribes.
But of course the kingdom is often hidden, for some want it to remain so hidden from others of course - others who have to jump the correct hoops to measure up.
I was reading Psalm 40 this morning 'I have not hidden your righteousness in my heart .. I have not kept back you loving kindness and your truth' (vs 12,13) like the prophet Jonah sought to hide God's mercy from the Ninevites by travelling away from Nineveh rather than to it.
It seems to me that in the end the only important question is how wide do we make God's mercy whether we hide it from others or do we proclaim it to all. The current struggles over sexuality in the Anglican Communion as well as other parts of the Church are essentially about communion. Is our communion only meant to be with a select few or is it supposed to be with all. For those who want our communion to be only with a select few would hide the treasure from others. So despite the fact that we are so familiar with Jesus, we are on a first name basis with all of his family, we can fail to see what should be as plain as the nose on our face, and hide the kingdom from others and in doing so from ourselves as well. But God will have none of this, and the kingdom will be found by others where we have hidden it even by people who aren't even looking for it; as well as others who spend a lifetime looking and know the value of something when they see it.
As we contemplate the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, we can take the enormity of the pain and suffering to heart personally and think how even the most heinous of *my* sins have been forgiven, or we can reflect how this is efficacious for all of humanity. The former focuses on ourselves, the latter focuses on others. The former ought to make us grateful, the latter ought to make us accepting of all others. The former should make us love God; the latter should make us love our neighbours. The former will only give the world more division and bloodshed, the latter might bring some peace to this world. The saddest thing is that people blame God for the bloodshed and division!
If we don't hear the rejoicing in heaven as the priest pronounces the absolution after we've confessed our sins to him (or her) then perhaps it is because we have become religiously narcissistic and need a little religious altruism in our lives. We might indeed hear those angels celebrating when we accept others God has put around us.
Jesus marvelled at the unbelief of those with whom he had worshipped all his life, and the core of this unbelief might have been that he was someone so familiar to them that they couldn't believe that God would use someone like them. But the core of their unbelief also might be that they couldn't believe that God includes others and not just them. The first focuses on the status of Jesus, the second focuses on those he blessed by his ready association. The first denies God in the midst of ordinary existence, the second affirms this.
And this comes back to the excuse those who had Jesus killed gave for doing what they did. They accused him of blasphemy in that he called himself the Messiah (Matt 26.65, Mk 14.63, Lk 22.71, Jn 19.7). The excuse they made was that he claimed to be the Son of God, whereas their real motivation was that he associated with tax collectors and sinners, people other than themselves, and so proclaimed that enlightenment was found everywhere and not just through their own religious system. That the treasure might be found by a labourer working in a field, or by a common merchant in his daily trade. The offence was that God was a generous God, and makes sure that all have the opportunity to find the kingdom, and not just in religious observances of any type. This was the real blasphemy!
So we too can hide the kingdom away from others, by insisting that the most important message of our faith is the status of Jesus or our acceptance of the creeds. This is to be deceived by the very people who had Jesus killed! But the kingdom can be perceived in the day to day activities of ordinary people. It comes to the farmer digging the soil, not worshipping God in Temple, synagogue or church. It comes to the merchant in the exercise of his trade during the week, rather than on the Sabbath, whatever day that is. This truth can be as confronting now as then.
Of course the fact is that this is good news for all people if we choose to see it that way. If we have a generous God who does everything possible to ensure that all are included, including sending his only son to die on a cross and to rise again, then the future of the church is assured. For the resurrection is God's seal that the efforts of those who would hide the mercy of God from other people are ultimately in vain. The resurrection is God's seal of his (or her) generosity and love for all people.
And again, this inclusion of others is no liberal interpretation, but at the heart of the gospel and the Cross and resurrection. If our reading of scripture leads us away from communion with others, any others or all others, then our reading of scripture is wrong. For God leads us into communion with others, those who find the treasure in their occupations during the week, those who find the treasure in the bible and / or the sacraments of the church, those who find the treasure in the beauty of nature, those who find the treasure in the intimacy of relationship, or wherever.
And this communion with all is beyond price, a treasure worth finding, a treasure worth working all one's life for.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"