1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12 + Psalm 119 + Romans 8, 28-30 + Matthew 13, 44-52
Treasure stories abound in every culture, and those who make a study of such things have many examples all of which are shaped around a common theme: a treasure found leads to tragedy. One of the great treasure stories in our culture was put into a wonderful novel by John Steinbeck, The Pearl. It would make great summer reading and put you in touch with these parables in a very unique way.
Matthew is being clever by pairing these two stories so that we do not get distracted by unimportant details. There are a lot of features that are dissimilar, so we need not look to them for some meaning. One person is just lucky and stumbles on the treasure, the other person has been looking for it for a long time. The lucky one seems to be a hired hand working someone else’s field. The other, we are told is a “merchant”. In both cases, the treasure has been hidden, something they did not see at first; but one is looking and the other is not.
What is similar in these two parables holds something for us to reflect upon: the joy in finding, the value of the find, and the cost involved. In both stories, what is found both by looking and by luck is beyond anything they ever expected, hoped for, or could have imagined. The value of the find is more than anything else they have, had, or could ever want. That value is determined by what they are willing pay for it. The cost is everything they have, so the value is greater than everything they have had until then. It is not a break-even deal. What is unmistakable here and confirms the value worth the cost is the consequent Joy. That Joy affirms and confirms that they have discovered and found all they will ever need. It makes them joyful. For the first one, the Joy is explicit. Matthew tells us that he rejoiced at his find. For the second, the Joy is implicit, but it’s there because there is no one who would put up for sale everything without some anticipating and exciting Joy. He did it gladly or he would not have done it at all.
Matthew directs these stories with their examples of total commitment to his mixed community consisting of many who were lax and inconsistent in discipleship as well as the more dedicated. What is described in these stories is not exactly giving away everything but using everything we have to possess what is considered to be of even greater worth. You and I sit here today open to God’s Word coming through Matthew much the same as the community for which he wrote a long time ago. The dedicated are here always, some of the inconsistent are here again, and to all of us the Word speaks about using everything God has given us to possess the “Reign of God” to live completely in an unending and unbreakable relationship with each other in the presence of God. In other words, The Word of God reminds us that everything we have is given to us to use for the sake of a greatest good, the Reign of God. What we have is not an end in itself.
The Word speaks to us today about the consequence of this discovery, the treasure and the cost. It is Joy. I believe Matthew is suggesting that there is a way of knowing when we have discovered the treasure and done all we can to possess it. Joy. That Joy will be unmistakable and could never go without notice. It brings peace of mind, and a security that knows no threat or fear. It is a Joy that will attract others who may either be surprised at what they find or finally discover what they have been looking for all their lives. Either way, if we have come to possess and live in the Reign of God, and have used all we have to hold on to it, people will be attracted to us as a church and to our way of life by our joy, not our rules, regulations or grim sacrifices. For us, giving everything is joyful, sacrifice is a delight and service is an act of love.
It is time to look around in here at one another’s faces. Grim, sour, cynical, defeated, and marginalized people have not yet possessed the Reign of God perhaps because they have not done what it takes to discover what is hidden in here. This church would be packed wall to wall every Sunday and every day of the week if the people who come in and out of those doors really understood, grasped, and celebrated what can be discovered here and possessed if you’re will to pay the price. Where are the smiles that reflect Joy? The cares and hurts, needs and struggles that we all live through every day are nothing compared to what is here. It ought to make us smile and reflect the Joy we read about in the lives someone working in another’s field, or a merchant who finally gets what he has worked and looked for all his life.
Jesus asks his disciples a question toward the end of this reading: “Have you understood this?” Do you remember the response he got? What was it? He asks you again today, “Have you understood this?” What’s your answer? Where’s your Joy? Not just in here, but in your life!
Let me leave you with this thought…… These stories never tell what the finders did with the treasure. That is not the point of the story. The point is what happens to them because of the treasure they have found. We should probably be looking at what has happened to us having found the treasure of faith in this Church of Jesus Christ.