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March 4, 2015, 11:09 AM

My Treasure, Our Pearl


Matthew 13:44-46
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.46 When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.
 
My Treasure, Our Pearl
 
The Commonwealth of God is like a winning Powerball lottery ticket, sticking up out of a box in a storage unit. A woman, attending an auction of abandoned storage units, sees the ticket, looks it upon her smart phone, and realizes it is the winning ticket. Quickly she tucks the ticket down in the box, and then liquidates all her assets so she can win the bid on that storage unit.
 
Again, the Commonwealth of God is like a dealer in fine arts. While assisting in the selling of an estate that had collected fine art over the generations, the dealer discovers Carabaggio’s “Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence” (a lost masterpiece worth multi-millions). He quickly sells everything he has to buy that painting.
 
These two one verse parables—the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price—are so often overlooked in the gospel of Matthew and when they appear in the lectionary readings.  They are part of chapter 13 of Matthew, a chapter of parables, one after the other, beginning with the Parable of the Sower which we heard last week. These two tiny stories are found in the midst of the Parables of the Weeds and the Wheat, the Mustard Seed, the Yeast in the Loaf, and the Net. When they pop up in our three year lectionary cycle they are always accompanied by that beloved Mustard Seed and the Yeast.  And we have to admit, gardening and baking are so much easier to wrestle with in parable form. Plants and bread are timeless and universal images, ones that can resonate through the centuries.
 
But these two tiny parables also offer a timeless and universal challenge if we can wade through the centuries and cultural boundaries to sit with the crowd on the beach 2000 years ago and hear with different ears. As we read last week in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus begins teaching on the shores of Lake Galilee, and the crowd is so great he climbs into a boat and teaches to the people and disciples gathered on the beach.
 
The first parable, the Treasure in the Field, both acts to set up the next parable and tweaks the ears of the listener and draws them in. The word ‘treasure’ rings a bell for those who have been following Jesus and it grabs their attention. Jesus has spoken of treasure before—“where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Ah ha! the followers exclaim. Jesus is in some way speaking to us on matters of where our hearts dwell. And, Jesus uses a story that most everyone on that beach can identify with, the average person stumbling across a fortune. Who wouldn’t resonate with that? Just look at how successful the lottery system is today, and the number of people willing to drop by the convenience store when the jackpot becomes large, just for a chance at a fortune. Who wouldn’t love to be in this person’s shoes? The listeners are drawn in and primed for the punch.
 
“The kingdom of heaven is like a person, a merchant…” What? Jesus now has their undivided attention—a merchant? How is living God’s way anything like the life of a merchant? Aren’t they about the bottom line, making a buck, growing their business? And merchant’s may have a neutral image in our day, but in the New Testament, the word for ‘merchant’ in Greek has its root in the word for ‘empire.’ It is a decidedly negative term. But Jesus forges ahead, “The kingdom of heaven is like a person, a merchant seeking pearls…” So, not only are we dealing with a merchant, but one that deals in rare commodities. Pearls were very hard to come by in first century Israel. They were only owned by the wealthiest of the wealthiest; royalty, the powerful. Most people on that beach listening to Jesus had never seen a pearl. “…a merchant seeking pearls, and upon finding one of exceeding value, sells everything—EVERYTHING—to own it.”
 
This is the real shocker, that a merchant, who is all about the bottom line and making a profit would sell everything—home, business, property, resources—for this one thing, no matter how precious it is. This is completely reckless, an over-the-top response. He is willing to sell it all for this pearl. And whispered under this short parable begins a question: “Is there any scenario where I would do that? Is there anything I would sell everything for? What is my treasure? What is our pearl?”
 
Jesus isn’t naïve. He knows the crowd, and even the disciples, first response will not be the kingdom of heaven, the commonwealth of God. Not if they are being honest. Not if we are. But it is important to know what our response is to such a question. What would we be willing to go ‘all-in’ for? What would we give everything and anything for? What is my treasure? What is our pearl?
 
And even as that question continues to play out within us, another begs for attention from us. How might God’s commonwealth, the kingdom of heaven, rise in value for us? ‘For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.’ What might we need to divest ourselves from—financially? with our time? our talent? our energy? our resources?—in order to invest more fully in the kingdom? What might we need to ‘give up’ in order for more and more of our treasure, more and more of our pearl, to be God’s way of living in this world and the next?
 
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, one person, upon discovering this treasure, sells everything to buy the field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking pearls, upon finding one of exceeding value, the merchant sells everything to buy it.
 
Let all of us with ears, pay attention!

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