Finders Keepers

Matthew 13:44-50                                                          November 9, 2014

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”

Have you ever read those words, and wondered how, or why this treasure might have come to be hidden in a field? Were there pirates back then?

Well, apparently it was fairly common practice, at the time Jesus was teaching, that landowners, if indeed they had any ‘treasure’ to protect, it wasn’t uncommon to take it out into a field that you owned, and bury it. It sounds a little weird, but your field could function kind of like a safe, back in the day.

You would hide your treasure in your field, so that in case burglars or bandits or marauding enemy soldiers would come through and raid your home, they wouldn’t be able to find your really valuable stuff.

Well, who knows…maybe during one guy’s tenure, he buried his treasure out in that field, and maybe he died promptly thereafter, or maybe he forgot where it was hidden because it was there so long.

Maybe a landmark changed, or maybe life intervened and he had to sell his land without reclaiming it first.

We could list maybe’s all day long.

The point is, the scenerio Jesus was describing here, it was a feasible situation. It’s not as far fetched as we might first think.

Someone might bury their treasure in a field, and then the property could possibly get passed down to new owners, maybe a generation or two later, the new landowner might not even know it was ever there in the first place.

They might, in turn, hire some fieldwork done, and one of the hired hands could potentially find this treasure as he’s out there planting wheat.

Can you imagine, being out, working in a field, and you realize that you’re not hitting a stone as you dig a hole?  Or, maybe you stumble on a rock that looks pretty different from the other rocks, or maybe something catches your eye as it glitters in the sun?

Can you imagine the excitement of finding buried treasure without even knowing it was there?

Can you imagine literally striking it rich, and having your lot in life changed in the blink of an eye?

The guy is shrewd though.

He buries it. He hides it again, as if he never found it, and goes and sells everything he owns and buys the field.

See, technically, legally, the treasure belongs to whoever owns the land.

So he sells everything in order to afford it, to become it’s rightful, legal owner.

That’s like the Kingdom.

 

Again, the Kingdom is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. On finding one of great value, he goes and sells all that he had and bought it.

This one I really don’t get.

See, in the first story, the guy sells everything, but he gets a field and some treasure in return.

What I mean is, he improved his situation. He was probably just a farm hand, you know? barely getting by just like everyone else.

But he discovers this treasure, and by the end of the story he’s got a means of production and he’s got considerable wealth. His investment pays dividends.

But this pearl merchant…I’m not sure what he’s doing.

He sells his business to acquire one pearl!

All he gets in return for his life’s work…is one pearl!!!

It can’t feed him. It can’t give him money unless he sells it, which wouldn’t make sense because he’s invested so much to simply own it.

I just don’t get it.

There must have been something inherent to the pearl that makes it worth having…something that the merchant sees that’s worth divesting all his other interests in order to have.

He’s like a starstruck lover when he finds this pearl, willing to part with everything in order to own it.

I’m still of the old school I guess, when it comes to Jewelry…I just don’t see the point.

It looks pretty, but it really can’t do anything for you, right?

So what’s the point?

Well, let’s look a little closer.

In both of these stories, these gentlemen had to completely alter their lifestyles to accomodate the priceless treasure they had discovered.

In both stories, they had to invest everything they had in order to claim the treasures that they had found.

Their lives would begin looking totally different as they reorganized around the pearl, and the treasure. For one, he moves up in the world, for the other, it sure seems like he’s moving down, or at least taking a step backwards.

That’s the Kingdom at work.

So many of us though, I think we find this great treasure in the field, and instead of jumping on it to own it fully, we might snitch from it, you know?

We might take a coin or two from the box, put it in our pocket, go about our business as usual, and then return the next day or the next week to snitch another coin or two as we need it, or as we have use for it.

We might try to keep it hidden simply because we fear it being removed, or we fear other people reaping its benefits. Maybe we fear the change and the added responsibilities that truly owning this treasure might bring to our lives. …so we sneak a coin here and there to use as we see fit.

The cost of ownership might simply be too much; more than we’re willing to pay.

We want to benefit from the Reign of God, but we don’t want to change our lives too much.

So instead of actually investing our lives in owning the field…we snitch.

That’s not owning the kingdom of God.

That’s stealing.

The kind of commitment God looks for isn’t snitching.

It’s a whole-hearted, both feet in, risk-taking big-dreaming giving everything you once knew up so that you can gain the whole field kind of investment.

The heavy lifting has been done.

Through Christ crucified, this treasure has been buried and through Christ resurrected, we’re able to own it for ourselves.

Not a piece at a time, on our terms…that’s not the kingdom.

You can’t pick and choose the Kingdom of Heaven. You have no say as to where God reigns.

Rather, you own it, and in a way it owns you, and everything else finds a new place in your life.

This happens when you make room at your thanksgiving table for someone you might not know very well. It happens when you tithe to the church, putting money in it’s proper place. It happens when you give of your time to help those less fortunate, or when you speak up on their behalf.

It happens when you extend forgiveness, or a kind word when a spiteful one would feel so much better.

These are signs of the Reign of God, and your ownership of it.

Don’t settle for a pocketful of change, not when you have the means to own the treasure outright!!

Jesus goes on in this section, we typically call this next one “the pearl of great price”…I think a more apt name would be “the parable of the impulsive pearl merchant”.

It shares a theme with the first, for in both, the main character finds something really valuable; a once in a lifetime find, and in both cases they go to great lengths, considering all other things rubbish, as Paul might say, in order to obtain the goods.

This merchant was probably doing pretty well. He traded in fine jewels, in other words, he traded in wealth.

But when he finds the one pearl that he had been looking for all his life, he trades it all in to get it.

Do you understand that?

He completely sells out.

The merchant considers nothing else in his possession as equal in value to the pearl that he finds after a career of scouring the world.

When I was thinking about asking Christine to marry me, I was told time and time again that “A diamond is forever”.

Diamonds are symbols of love, and commitment, and rare beauty.

I can appreciate that.

And we have to understand, that in the ancient world, Pearls were like diamonds are today.

They were valued more highly than gold.

So we have a guy who probably made a pretty good living, doing the equivalent of a Kay Jeweler’s store today. He was probably widely traveled as he went around the world buying, selling, and trading pearls…But I’m thinking that for him it was more than a job, too.

That’s the only way I can make sense of his actions when he finds “The One”.

He makes the move of a starstruck lover when he finds it, that is, He completely sells out in order to make it his own.

It seems impulsive, doesn’t it?

Nothing else that he owns is equal in worth to this one pearl.

Jesus says that’s like the Kingdom.

It’s like this impulsive merchant.

Did you hear that right?

It’s like the merchant.

You, and I, we are the pearl.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant, Jesus says.

This merchant stops at nothing when he finds one of great value. He considers nothing else within his possession to be equal in value.

Not even life itself!!!

He sells it all; he invests his total being, he puts as much of himself as he can into the acquisition of this pearl.

He doesn’t buy it for what the pearl can do for him. It can’t feed him. It can’t earn him money. It can’t give him shelter.

He pays so dearly simply because it’s that valuable in his eyes!!

The pearl is worth it!

You are worth it!

You and I are worth the suffering experienced by Jesus in the crucifixion, for it’s the price paid by a God who knows exactly what he wants, and how to get it.

You are worth more than life itself in the eyes of God!

 

Finally, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that catches fish of every kind.

This story makes me think of an experience we had in Florida the first time we went down back in May.

We went down to meet Aidan’s birth mother, and then we spent a few days in Sarasota.

While we were there, we took a day to go to a state park where we were told we would be able to see some alligators.

So we went, and inquired, and found the place.

We walked back a path through some woods, and out onto a little dock, that kind of stuck out into the swamp, and you could stand there and sure enough, we could see 4 or 5 alligators sunning themselves on a bank or floating in the water. It was cool, and a little bit unnerving because they were so big, and so close! 🙂

Well, on the dock, there was a guy fishing with a net. It was a small net, but the principle was the same as what Jesus was talking about here.

He’d lower his net into the water, he’d wait awhile, and then he’d bring it back up and it would be just chock full of fish. They’d be flopping around on the dock, and he had one of those enormous coolers that he was filling up.

I kind of wondered if he was catching them for a restaurant or something, I never found out.

But it was interesting to watch him.

He’d pull up the net, he’d have all these fish, maybe 10 or 15 at a time.

And then he’d work them out of his net, and he’d sort them.

The ones he wanted would go in the cooler, those were gray…and then there was a different kind of fish.

Let’s call them good fish, and bad fish, that is fish he wanted, fish that served his purpose, and other fish that didn’t serve his purpose.

After he emptied his net, he’d sort them out.

He would take the good fish, and put them in his cooler, and then he’d take the bad fish and fling them back into the swamp, trying to get them to land on a certain dry bank so they’d die.

(I have to admit I was kind of hoping he’d throw one at a gator to see what would happen, then I found out it’s really a bad idea to feed the gators anything.)

After watching him do this a couple of times, I asked him what he was doing…it seemed a little cruel, I didn’t understand why he would try to ensure their death rather than just releasing them.

He explained that the ones he was throwing back were an invasive species of fish, they weren’t native to the area, they had been introduced at some point and they had become a real problem.

They were a nuisance fish.

They apparently weren’t good to eat, that they weren’t good for anything, and all they did was make life more difficult for the fish you actually want to catch.

So, his sorting out the good fish from the bad fish, it was an act of stewardship, or conservation.

He was working to benefit the general health of the whole ecosystem, and he also knew that his livelihood (if this was part of his livelihood) was deeply connected to what was happening underneath the surface of the water in that particular swamp.

The Kingdom is like a fishermen’s net.

It’s efficient, it’s effective, it catches all manner of people within its scope, and yet God as the fisherman loves and cares too much for the health of His kingdom; that divine ecosystem; to allow the invasive nature of sin to deny the good fish their due place, and their opportunity to thrive.

See, God cares about more than just getting his limit.

He also cares about the swamp.

When it’s time for the harvest, the net of the Kingdom will take up the good, and the bad together.

None will escape the net of God, but we can see this as a sign of hope.

For God can be trusted to sort the good from the bad; those who serve the purposes of God, from those who work against those purposes.

There will be a day when time itself is fulfilled, and who we are becoming is who we have become. There will be a day of sorting out, when the net closes and the reality behind reality will be judged for what it has become.

So I urge all of us, turn towards God.

Let us not only make room in our lives for the treasure, but by the grace of God buy the field to own it,  and at the same time rejoice that we have such worth and such value in the eyes of our great God, that he considered even death as a price worth paying to make us his own!

Amen

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