July 27, 2016
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
On the one hand these two parables are incredibly encouraging. On the other hand they are tremendously off-putting. It’s kind of like getting a call from a telemarketer who informs you of the good news that you have just won a “major prize,” only to find out you have to attend a two hour time-share presentation to claim it.
Why is it that the promise of treasure always seems to come with a major catch? For most of my parable reading life I have loved these two short parables, but today, if I’m honest, I am frustrated with them. What’s the rub?
I love the part about the buried treasure and the exuberance of finding it and the pearl of great price and the ecstatic joy of finally finding it. When it comes to them selling everything they had in order to acquire the treasure I get upset. There’s a saying in contracts law that captures my dissonance, “The big print giveth and the little print taketh away.”
I think in the past I have simply rounded off the hard edges of these parables. It’s a parable after all. He couldn’t be literally serious, could he? Today, I’m thinking, “Absolutely! I think he’s dead serious.” If I’m honest, I have to admit I tend to play a little game of selective ignorance when it comes to the hard teachings of Jesus.
So is Jesus really telling me I have to sell everything I own in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Clearly one can’t buy their way into the Kingdom anymore than one can sell their way into it. So how about this? What if Jesus didn’t mean I have to sell everything I own in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? What if he meant to imply that my unwillingness to do so is actually the sign that I have not found the Kingdom yet. What if all that I have assumed was my experience of the Kingdom of God was just another form of window shopping?
I think Jesus means to describe something with these parables more than he intends to prescribe something. Here he seems to be describing the mentality of a person who has really found the Kingdom. It is such an overwhelming feeling of complete unfettered joy that one would be a total fool not to trade everything one has in to get it. Honestly, this challenges me to the core. It has me asking myself what I am missing. After all, I’m not ready to sell my house and all its contents.
And then another angle presents itself to me. What if the real point here is not to lament my self-diagnosed apparent lack of “sold-out-ness” to Jesus and instead to raise the stakes on my level of seeker-hood. Isn’t that what the text is all about?
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
What if the whole point is to jar me out of my self-satisfied self-assuring mentality that I have already found what there is to find and that’s that? What if the Kingdom is something we find and keep finding? What if there is no end to the finding? What if seeking the Kingdom is what I was made for? What if it is the highest and best and noblest purpose of this entire life? What if there’s nothing worth not exchanging for a life on such a quest?
1. So how about you? How do these two treasure parables challenge you? How do they encourage you?
2. Have you found what you are looking for? If so, are you still looking for it? What would it mean to keep seeking even after you have found it?
3. Does a seeker ever stop seeking? Why or why not?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.
One thing about these parables that has interested me in recent years is the value that is traded.
The first parable, the man sells what he has to buy land which contains a hidden treasure. He gets the treasure and the land, which combined are worth more than what he had at the start. This is true of the Kingdom, but it is also just good financial sense.
The second parable, however, the merchant sells everything to get a pearl worth (presumably) what he paid for it. He is left with a pearl and nothing else. His “net worth” financially speaking hasn’t changed. This, financially, may be a poor decision.
Of course, achieving the Kingdom is worth the cost, but the difference in the parables indicates that sometimes we have to do what the world would consider foolish to get the value that perhaps only we can currently.