Creekside Church
Sermon of July 26, 2020

"Costly At Any Price"
Matthew 13:44-52

Rosanna McFadden


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. Amen.


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