The scripture which Lodema
just read for us from Matthew 13 part of the same set of parables
of Jesus -- those were Jesus’ words -- we encountered last week.
Last week’s parables were also from the 13th chapter of Matthew
and they had themes of agriculture -- of seeds and weeds and sowing
and growing. This week we our trio of parables is not such a neatly
matched set. There are two about treasure, and one about fish. Now
I realize that for Tim McFadden and Myron Miller there may not be
a clear line between treasure and fish, but for the rest of us, those
are pretty different things.
I have been eager to
talk about treasure, because I heard a great story about treasure
last week -- maybe it seemed especially interesting because I was
already thinking about treasure, and casting around for an illustration.
This is a news story -- that usually means that it actually happened.
It was a news story about a man named Johnny Perri, the owner of
J&M Jewelers in Washington Township, MI. He had several hundred
thousand dollars worth of jewelry inventory when Michigan shut down
because of Covid-19, and the economy took a nosedive. Johnny knew
that people don’t purchase much jewelry during hard times,
and he was getting close to retirement anyway, so he did what anyone
would do with his inventory: he cached it. Not as in converted it
to cash -- he divided the jewelry and pieces of silver into piles
worth about $4,000 each, and he hid it -- cached t away -- all over
the state of Michigan. He and his wife drove and hiked and kayaked
to remote places in the state and he buried his treasure. He calls
it the Great Michigan Treasure Hunt, and for $49 you can purchase
a ticket with a clue and seek for yourself. If you find a treasure
you can keep it, or if and want to sell it, Johnny will buy it back
from you and hide itagain. The treasure hunt begins this Saturday,
August 1 -- the first round of tickets is already sold out.
It’s worth noting
that treasure hunting is not really a sound business strategy. There
are a lot more people looking for treasure than there are people
hiding treasure, so unless you already have a lot of treasure stashed
away, the odds are not really in your favor. Finding a treasure
is more like an unexpected windfall than it is careful financial
planning. You may be fortunate enough, like in the first parable,
to find a treasure and get your hands on it and realize a substantial
profit, but more often it’s like the second parable where
we find something which so captures our heart and imagination that
we’ll give up whatever we have to in order to obtain it. And
sometimes instead of treasure we get bad fish.
What to make of all this?
First of all, remember that these are all stories about the kingdom
of heaven. Matthew is a devout Jew, and Jews were very careful about
speaking the name of God. So although Matthew repeatedly quotes
Jesus as using the phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus
is not talking about life in the hereafter -- at least not exclusively.
Jesus is calling his followers to live right here and right now
in a way which gives glory and honor to God, the same way those
in heaven live. It is God’s kingdom, but we help to make that
kingdom a reality for ourselves and other people when our lives
are subject to God’s laws and God’s love. The kingdom
of heaven has a quality of here but not yet finished which Jesus
captures in his prayer in Matthew 6 in the phrase “Your kingdom
come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Believing
in and following Jesus is the work of eternity, but it’s also
something we’re supposed to be doing right now, because the
way we live on earth matters to us and to our neighbors. It makes
earth a place where God is glorified, and ultimately, the way we
live paves the way for God’s kingdom to come.
So what do these parables
tell us about right now? First of all, that treasure isn’t
cheap. But when we find it, we’ll be happy to spend whatever
it takes to get it. In the case of the merchant looking for pearls,
he was a man with financial resources, and he was happy to dedicate
them all to buy the superlative pearl; the perfect pearl. When there
are so many things in our lives which seem like they might be worthwhile,
it takes an act of faith to invest everything we have in the kingdom
of heaven. A business model would tell you to diversify your investments
-- this is not a good business model, any more than broadcasting
seeds on all kind of soil is a good agricultural model -- Jesus
is looking for followers who are willing to commit whole-heartedly
to seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.
And what about the fish?
I’m a bit troubled by the fish, frankly. Let me read that
parable again, just to refresh your memory:
‘Again, the kingdom
of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught
fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down,
and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will
be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate
the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
There’s more wailing
and gnashing of teeth and being thrown into the fire in the gospel
of Matthew than sits comfortably with me. I think some of it is
hyperbole, in the same style as when Jesus says, “If your
right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is
better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body
to be thrown into hell.” I don’t think Jesus’
point is about tearing our eyes out; he’s using that image
and the weeds which are gathered up and thrown into the fire and
these fish which will be separated and thrown into the fire and
later the sheep and the goats which will be separated and the goats
sent into the fire---so much fire. I believe this Matthean pyromania
is Matthew’s way of communicating God’s passion for
righteousness; that in the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom on
earth there is no place for evil. It must be rooted out, separated
out, fished out and cast out. It is this sense of a pure and singular
passion for the kingdom of heaven which connects the parables of
the treasure and the parables of the fish. To gain the kingdom of
heaven, we must be willing to be single-minded and to sacrifice
anything which might prevent us from gaining that prize. The cost
is greater than most people are willing to pay, but for those who
recognize the treasure of God’s kingdom and righteousness,
it is worth it at any price.
Jesus was not a wealthy
man. He never owned treasure in any conventional sense of that word.
But he gave up his life rather than grasping the power of political
revolution, or the armies of kings and princes, or even an army
of angels. Jesus gave up everything so that he could gain the kingdom
of heaven and invite his followers to gain the kingdom of heaven:
the treasure of this life and the promise of eternity. Live richly.