Sunday, July 27, 2008

Matt.13.44-52, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, July 27, 2008

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, there it is in black and white… well in some bibles it’s red and white, because it is Jesus words… Jesus tells us that if we want the treasure of the kingdom of heaven we should be willing to sell everything we have. Get out your check book and write the big one. You know the check that leaves the big goose egg in your account. Don’t worry you’re going to put some more in there anyway because you’ve still got your house to sell… that new car in the parking lot… the new computer you got last month with the ‘free money’ the government gave you to stimulate the economy. And you farmers get your deeds in order that farmland has to go too… all of it. Ladies your mothers good china that dad brought back from Korea. Your knick-knacks; your quilts; Guys your tools; trucks; tractors; lawnmowers; etc. It’s all gotta go. Don’t forget your personal jewelry, wedding rings, rings you inherited from your father, and the clothes; yep, all those extra shoes in your closet; the pants that fit; and even the ones that don’t. Am I forgetting anything? Well if I am that’s gotta go also. And then write out another check and close up the account. ‘Cause that’s what Jesus says. Isn’t it? Well, that’s what the parable says:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)

When you read this parable you read that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure in a field. The Kingdom of Heaven, isn’t that our salvation. Isn’t that all that Jesus came to bring to us? So be like the guy in the parable and sell everything you have and buy it. That’s what this guy does, isn’t it? He finds that valuable treasure in the field and he sells everything?

Well before we get out our garage sale signs maybe we should back up and talk just a minute about this short parable so we understand it right. So we understand it like the folks Jesus was talking to. How would they have understood it? Well, those days were not like these days in a lot of ways. First, be clear and understand that this guy in the parable isn’t doing anything illegal or underhanded. Back then when you owned a plot of land you didn’t own everything in it. Not like today with mineral rights and all that. You didn’t own anything in the field that you didn’t know about. So the treasure doesn’t ‘belong’ to the guy who owns the field just because it’s in his field. He doesn’t own the treasure because he doesn’t know about it. And there’s another very small detail to take notice of. The story doesn’t say that the guy picked up the treasure. It says he found it and covered it up again. That’s because, if he’s a hired hand, working in the field, everything he does he does on behalf of the guy he’s working for. So if he picks up the treasure it belongs to his boss. So he covers it up instead. Then he goes and sells everything he has to get possession of the field, and since he knows about the treasure, it’s his. Jesus listeners would have thought this man very wise, very smart. No one would have accused him of doing anything underhanded. It’s the way anyone there would have operated. This guy in the parable is the “good guy.”

Ok, so now back to our reading of the parable. Jesus says (doesn’t he?) that if you find the kingdom of heaven, you should be willing to sell all you have to get it. You should be as shrewd as this guy, as smart as this guy. You should be willing to sell all you have and buy treasure. Now if the treasure is God’s Kingdom, Jesus Christ and all that He has done for you, you know exactly where to find it. You know where to find Jesus. He’s here. Right here in his Word and Sacraments. The treasure isn’t even hidden in a field. So get crackin’; get sellin’; get moving the merchandise. Right?

Well, let’s ask a simple but important question. What if you sell everything and you don’t have enough to buy the land? What if you’ve disposed of all your wealth, all your possessions, all your worldly goods but the cloths on you back and you still don’t have enough to get the treasure? Well, that’s a real problem isn’t it? And in fact, that is our problem. The Bible tells us that we can’t earn our salvation or purchase it in any way. Our good works aren’t good enough and our money is worthless. So maybe Jesus doesn’t mean exactly what He’s saying here. Maybe the parable isn’t really about ‘getting’ the treasure but just about ‘wanting’ the treasure. Maybe he’s saying that we should be willing to sell all that we have to get the kingdom, or to get Jesus. Yea, that must be it. “I’ve Decided to Follow Jesus” as one hymn says. “I’d give up anything for Jesus.”

Hey, there’s a story about that in the bible isn’t there? Yea, it’s in Matthew 19.

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-24, ESV)

Well, there’s a guy who just doesn’t get does he. He had the chance to do exactly what the parable says, and he tanked it. Jesus showed him the “treasure in heaven” he’s asking the right question isn’t he? What must I do to have eternal life? But in the end he walks away simply because he’s unwilling to sell everything he has to get it. Well, that’s rich folks for you; all they think about is their money. He could have easily spread the love a bit and made all those folks around Jesus happy, you know like the movies where the money from the stingy rich guy gets thrown in the air and everyone around gets a handful. But no, he thinks more of his money than the Kingdom of God.

Ah, but wait a second. Look at what the disciples say when Jesus says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They don’t say, “those silly rich people. They think too much of their money.” They say, “Who than can be saved?”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:24-26 ESV)

You see, the disciples see something; hear something that we don’t see at first. When Jesus talks about a camel going through the eye of a needle he’s talking about something that doable, he’s talking about something that’s impossible. You can tell by the disciples’ reaction. All of the sudden the disciples are afraid for their own salvation. And Jesus tells them they otta be. “With man this is impossible.” Jesus says. “You can’t do it, guys.” You can’t sell enough stuff to buy it. You can’t do enough good stuff to earn it. “For you it’s impossible,” Jesus says.

And now guess what? Jesus words reach right out of the pages of the book and grab you by the throat too. You can’t do it either, dear Christians, fellow members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD. No matter how much you sell, you can’t sell enough to buy the field the treasure is in. You can’t do enough good stuff to make God like you and save you. You are a poor miserable sinner, deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. No matter how hard you try you can’t do enough to earn the treasure. And I’m not just talking about money either. You can write checks till you’re blue in the face. You can come to church every Sunday. You can sing in the choir (if we had one). You can teach Sunday school for years. You can be better, cleaner, less arrogant than the whole town of Howard, SD, but none of that will get you one lick closer to the treasure. You can want the treasure more than anything else but you can’t have purchase it, because you don’t have enough, and you aren’t good enough. Because for you Jesus says, “this is impossible.” It’s because the price of the field is too high. The cost of getting the treasure is too much.

If the treasure is salvation, the Kingdom of God, then the only way you could earn it is to be perfect. Jesus tells us that, too. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” Look how he pushes that rich young man to the brink of despair. Jesus keeps upping the ante until what he’s looking to get by his works is out of reach. Jesus does that in other places too. He tells people if they call people stupid, or even think it they deserve hell because it’s just the same as killing them. He says that if you look at a woman with lust in your heart it’s the same as sleeping with her, and you deserve hell. You see. To buy the field you’d have to do more than you can do. You’d have to sell more than you have to sell. And just wanting to do it, just having the desire to have the treasure won’t get you the treasure either. So… what are we to think? What are we to do? What is Jesus trying to do to us here? What kind of a parable is this anyway?

You know, it occurs to me that we might just be reading this thing all wrong. Well, at least I hope we are reading it all wrong. What is it I always say about reading the bible? Jesus is at the heart and center of it all. If you want to understand what the bible is talking about you’ve got to put Jesus Christ crucified for you at the center of your thinking. You know what, when I read the parable with me as the guy who finds the treasure that puts me at the center. How would I read it so Jesus is there instead? How about this? Jesus is the guy who finds the treasure. Jesus is the guy who sells everything he has and buys the field and then rejoices in the treasure. Then what is the treasure?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)

Now remember that “for God so loved” in this passage isn’t talking about the amount of God’s love but rather the way that he showed his love. God loved the world in this way… Jesus Christ humbles himself to be a living breathing man. He leaves God the Father’s side, the glory of heaven to suffer the same things that all people suffer. He cried. He had sore feet from walking and he was hungry. He was tired and weary needing rest. He lost loved ones to death, and was hated by enemies, and betrayed by friends. And this is where Jesus is different from you and me. In all of this he didn’t sin. He didn’t give up his relationship to God, the Father. He constantly obeyed God’s will for his life. He loved people selflessly always. In fact, Jesus human life, was perfect in every single way. That’s where you and I fall short. We aren’t perfect. We can’t be. We can’t sell enough to buy the field. But Jesus can. And he does. On a cross, a perfectly horrible means of punishment, created by Satan himself, Jesus bore the sin of the whole world, giving his perfect life in the place of imperfect people. He suffered punishment for all sinful, imperfect people everywhere. He bought the field. He purchased it with his holy and perfect, sinless, priceless death on the cross. He bought the field with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. St. Paul told it to our Christian brothers and sisters in Philippi like this:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Why in the world would Jesus do that? Well, to get the treasure, of course. So what’s the treasure? What is so valuable to Jesus that he would is willing leave heaven and walk the earth as poor, humble man? What has so much worth to Jesus that he suffers a criminal’s death, a sinner’s death, the punishment of hell for all human sin? What does Jesus love so, that he makes sure the story of what he did is told over and over again? What is Jesus’ treasure, the thing that he joyfully sold all he had in order to have it for himself? You. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.


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